Colon Cancer Screening: Don’t Delay It

08/31/2011

“It was no big deal. I don’t understand why people stress over it.”

“The procedure itself was totally painless and relatively easy.”

 “It was a piece of cake.”

No, we didn’t pay these 50-something women to give us these comments about their first colonoscopy. All we did was ask them to tell us honestly what it was like. Given the negative perception about colonoscopy, their responses might catch a few readers by surprise. It should also make you think twice about skipping your colorectal screening test. Because the reality is that colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer among women. Since it’s also one of the few cancers we can stop before it even gets started (by removing precancerous polyps found during screening colonoscopies), the idea of missing something so clearly helpful has more than a few experts scratching their proverbial heads. And you don’t have to get a colonoscopy.

Other tests are available, although they, too, are underutilized. The main reason women don’t get recommended colorectal cancer screenings? Their health care professional never suggests it. You’ll never find David Stein, MD, neglecting to mention colorectal screening to a patient. The colorectal surgeon at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia sees all too often what happens when people neglect their screenings. That’s why Dr. Stein is a big believer in colonoscopy. The statistics are amazing, he says. “About two percent of all colonoscopies pick up a cancer at the time of the test and about 15 percent pick up polyps,” he says. So 17 percent of patients undergoing a colonoscopy—about one in five—will have a finding that will save them from cancer in the first place or a bad outcome if they have cancer. “Colonoscopy probably detects true cancers about one centimeter or larger about 90 to 93 percent of the time,” he says. And it’s extremely safe.

The worst part of the colonoscopy, many agree, is the prep. For years, that meant drinking a large quantity of a nasty tasting liquid (even though it came in several flavors), designed to “empty you out.” Today, however, depending on the recommendation from your colonoscopist, you may only need to take a handful of pills. You’ll still spend a few hours in the bathroom, but at least you don’t have to choke down that awful liquid. Plus, two of the other three screening tests for colon cancer (flexible sigmoidoscopy and double contrast barium enema) also require a bowel prep and neither is as sensitive as the colonoscopy. And here’s the irony: If they show polyps or cancers, you’ll still need a colonoscopy to evaluate and/or remove them for evaluation.

The one test that doesn’t require prep is a fecal occult blood test. With this test, you collect stool samples, which are tested for breakdown products of blood in stool. You have to abstain from iron pills, red meat or broccoli before the test, and it still has a high rate of false positives. Plus, you have to do it three times. “Fecal occult blood tests probably pick up problems 50 to 60 percent of the time,” says Dr. Stein, which, of course, means it misses about half of all cancers. And if it’s positive, you still need a colonoscopy.

A newer stool test evaluates the stool for DNA from the most common mutations found in colon cancer and large polyps. That test, Dr. Stein says, is about 85 percent effective. However, it’s still considered experimental and most insurances do not cover it. One day, Dr. Stein predicts, colonoscopy will take a back seat to an improved DNA fecal occult blood test, or to a virtual colonoscopy, in which your colon is examined via a CT or MRI. Right now, however, you still have to do a colon prep for an MRI or CT, and they’re not covered by insurance either unless you cannot undergo colonoscopy for some reason. And you face the same issue with the virtual colonoscopy as you do with any other non-colonoscopy test: If it finds something suspicious, you still need a colonoscopy to remove the “something” for testing.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Colon cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/colon-cancer

Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/cancer

© 2011 HealthyWomen. All rights reserved. Reprinted withpermission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll free). On the Web at:www.HealthyWomen.org.

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Testicular Cancer: More Common Males 15 to 34

11/28/2010

Compared with other types of cancer, testicular cancer is rare. But testicular cancer is the most common cancer in American males between the ages of 15 and 34.

Testicular cancer occurs in the testicles (testes), which are located inside the scrotum, a loose bag of skin underneath the penis. The testicles produce male sex hormones and sperm for reproduction.

Signs and symptoms of testicular cancer include:

  • A lump or enlargement in either testicle
  • A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
  • A dull ache in the abdomen or groin
  • A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
  • Pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum
  • Unexplained fatigue

Testicular cancer is highly treatable. Regular testicular self-examinations can help identify growths early, when the chance for successful treatment of testicular cancer is highest.

I GOT BALLS! (test your testes)Awareness Bands are one way to help spread the word about the importance of regular self-exams. Available at http://heart-strong.com/products.html

These silicone rubber wristbands are a fun way to raise awareness about testicular cancer and screening.

These 1″ wide wristbands are available in black, blue, purple, green and even pink for the girls who care about the cause too.

All bands are adult sized to fit just about everyone.

ONLY $4.00

Looking for more info about testicular cancer:

http://tcrc.acor.org/

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/testicular


Overcoming the Fear of Breast Cancer

10/28/2010

from the Breast Health Center

If you’re scared that you will one day hear the words, “You have breast cancer,” you’ve got plenty of company. Breast cancer is the most feared cancer among women. Sometimes, it’s not just the word “cancer” that’s at the root of the fear, but dread of issues associated with treating cancer, such as surgical complications and medication side effects. Perhaps you’ve been through a breast cancer diagnosis with someone close to you and know how difficult it can be.

While these are understandable fears, the danger is that some women are so overwhelmed with anxiety that they postpone screenings, such as breast exams and mammograms, or even skip them altogether for fear of bad news. Yet these are the very examinations that can help save lives by finding cancer early on, when it’s most treatable.

Women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer face a different set of fears as they go through various stages of anxiety and acceptance. Many are in a state of denial at first. This can quickly turn to anger and a feeling that their world has been turned upside down. Some women wonder what they have done to deserve this and are unsure about the best road to recovery. Eventually, reality sets in and treatment begins, which is when many women feel better and more in control of their disease because they are actively fighting it.

Those who survive breast cancer struggle with the fear that their cancer might return. Every post-treatment checkup, mammogram and blood test is anxiety-ridden as she awaits the results.

The lowdown…don’t let breast cancer blindside you

The reality is that as you age, your risk for developing breast cancer increases. Most of us know women who have battled breast cancer. Advances in methods of detection and treatments have transformed breast cancer from what had been considered a dreaded disease—what some perceived as a death sentence—to one that most women can and do beat. In fact, when breast cancer is found at its earliest, most treatable stage, a majority of women (98 percent) will go on to live full, healthy lives after treatment. So, it’s important to keep up with recommended screenings and exams.

If you’re 40 years or older, you should get a routine mammogram. In addition to the fear of getting a suspicious mammogram result, you may also be embarrassed to bare your breasts, or perhaps you’d rather avoid the discomfort that comes with positioning and squeezing the breast to take the image. But some temporary uneasiness and minor discomfort is a small price to pay if it means detecting breast cancer early.

If you’re new to the task, ask the technician to explain what to expect. Be sure to find out when you can expect the results, so you aren’t consumed with worry if you don’t hear right away. If you are asked to come back and repeat the test, don’t be alarmed. The film may have been difficult to read. If your doctor does notice something suspicious on your mammogram, he or she may order a biopsy to remove a sample of breast tissue and examine it for cancer. To put your mind at ease, consider that four out of five biopsies will not be cancer, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

It’s also important for you to talk with your health care provider to learn about your personal risk of developing breast cancer so that you can decide how to stay on top of your breast health. While you’re at it, ask about lung cancer and heart disease, too—these are the leading causes of death among women. And don’t forget periodic breast self exams. Many women neglect doing these exams for fear of ending up in the doctor’s office every month with a new lump and bump, but it’s important that you get to know your breasts over time so you notice any changes.

Attitude and support eases anxiety

Having breast cancer is a difficult experience. You are probably worried about the road ahead, how your diagnosis will affect the important relationships in your life and your body image, as well as family and work obligations. Seeking emotional support and maintaining a positive attitude (as best you can) will help ease your anxieties.

Here are some tips:

  • Practice the art of happiness. It may be easier said than done, but try not to get weighed down with grief and worry. Boost your spirits whenever you can by meeting a friend for lunch, writing (and referring to) inspirational messages in a journal or going for a walk in a park.
  • Join a breast cancer support group where you can share your anxieties with other women who are going through the same thing and have similar concerns. If you feel more comfortable chatting with others from the comfort of your home, there are safe message boards at sites like Breastcancer.org.
  • Don’t be afraid to express your fears to your loved ones. You’re not Superwoman, and it’s OK to share the burden. For many women, the old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies.
  • Take a deep breath. If you notice that your mind is swirling with worry, try meditation or deep-breathing exercises.
  • Ask questions. Your mind may get ahead of you at times, so ask questions to make sure you aren’t worrying unnecessarily.
  • Don’t let cancer define you. You had a life before cancer, and there is life after, so don’t lose sight of who you are. Stay connected to the people and activities that are important to you.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Living with Breast Cancer: http://www.healthywomen.org/content/article/living-breast-cancer

Life After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis: http://www.healthywomen.org/content/article/life-after-breast-cancer-diagnosis

Breast Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/breast-cancer

Breast Health Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/breast-health

Cancer Health Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/cancer

© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.


Preventing and Coping with Gynecologic Cancer

10/05/2010

from the Reproductive and Pelvic Health Center

by Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH

Reading about gynecologic cancer is enough to send shivers down any woman’s spine.

For we define much of our womanhood through our reproductive organs, not only on a physiological basis, for example, our ovaries produce estrogen, but also in an emotional way, particularly when it comes to our womb.

But you are not powerless against these cancers. As with every type of cancer, certain lifestyle practices may help protect you. For instance, since the human papilloma virus (HPV) causes more than 90 percent of cervical cancers, and since the virus is primarily contracted through sexual intercourse, monogamy and practicing safe sex by using condoms can help reduce your risk of contracting the virus in the first place.

There is also some evidence that cigarette smoking-even exposure to secondhand smoke could contribute to cervical cancer. Yet another reason not to smoke or to quit ASAP!

With any cancer, particularly ovarian and endometrial, it is critical that you know your family history. Don’t just rely on what mom tells you, however.

If you recall several female relatives dying of “stomach problems,” dig deeper. Check the death certificate or even medical records to see if those problems might actually have been a gynecologic cancer.

Other things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Lose weight. Obesity is the leading cause of endometrial cancer. So, make weight management a priority.
  • Take birth control pills. Numerous studies find they can reduce your risk of ovarian cancer, probably by limiting the number of times you ovulate throughout your lifetime.
  • Get regular daily exercise. You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Well, the studies are pretty convincing that moderate exercise (that would be a 30- minute walk four or five days a week) reduces your risk of endometrial cancer, probably by helping regulate weight and blood sugar levels.

Now, a few words for women trying to cope with a gyn cancer: Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but a major study published in 2003 found that women diagnosed with gynecologic cancer have a poorer quality of life-defined as physical, emotional, social and functional well-being- than even women diagnosed with breast cancer .

Not only are you scared to death about your health, tired and sick from the treatments, but you’re probably also worried about your family. If you were premenopausal, suddenly being thrust into menopause carries it with it a whole host of emotional issues, not the least of which may be changes in your sexual function.

Here are a few coping tips to consider:

  • First, recognize that these feelings are perfectly normal. Also recognize that now, more than during any other time in your life, you have to take care of you. That includes such things as sleeping or resting when you’re tired -regardless of the time of day or night- eating healthfully, preferably with the guidance of a dietician experienced in cancer care-and getting some kind of physical exercise when you feel up to it, even if it’s just walking down to the mailbox.
  • Try to reframe your diagnosis in a positive manner. Use it as a reason to find a new meaning and focus in life. One major study found that such reframing, along with acceptance –defined as facing unfortunate realities that cannot be changed — resulted in greater physical, emotional and functional well-being in women one year after they were diagnosed with gynecologic cancer. Additionally, the study found that women who sought and received comfort from someone in their life led to greater social well-being and doctor-patient relationships.
  • Bottom line: turn your caregiving inward. Take care of the person who needs it most right now: you.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV): www.healthywomen.org/condition/human-papillomavirus-hpv

Cervical Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/cervical-cancer

Ovarian Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/ovarian-cancer

Uterine Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/uterine-cancer

Reproductive and Pelvic Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/reproductive-and-pelvic-health

© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.