Cancer Prevention & Screening
One of the most critical ways to safeguard your health and the health of your family is to learn more about cancer prevention. Cancer is not a single disease, but rather a group of related diseases. You can reduce your cancer risk by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a diet filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Avoiding tobacco
- Getting regular physical exercise
- Preventing UV exposure
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Learning more about potential dangers that may be in your home or work environment
- Sharing your family history with your healthcare provider
- Getting regular checkups and cancer screenings
Cancer screening exams can help to identify cancer at an early stage, before symptoms begin. When cancer is found early, it's easier to treat and cure, and it may be identified before it has a chance to spread to other areas of the body.
The American Cancer Society has established screening guidelines for some forms of cancer:
The first step to breast cancer prevention is self breast examination. Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel, and should tell their healthcare provider immediately if they notice any change. Women should start self examination at age 20, and it should be done on a monthly basis. In addition, women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical examination performed by their healthcare provider at least every three years.
Screening guidelines change when a woman reaches 40. At this stage, it's recommended that women have an annual clinical breast exam, as well as an annual mammogram (a picture of the breast tissue using an x-ray), continuing as long as they're in good health.
A very small percentage of women (less than 2% of all women), should have an MRI in addition to a mammogram based on genetic tendency, family history of other factors.
Women should be screened for cervical cancer starting at age 21. The screening schedule and specific screening tools do change as women age:
- 21-29: Pap test (which looks at the cells of the cervix) every 3 years. HPV only in the case of an abnormal Pap test result - HPV is a virus that can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
- 30-65: Pap test plus HPV test every 5 years, or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
- 65+: Women who have had routine cervical testing with normal results no longer need screening. Women with a history of a cervical pre-cancer should be tested for at least 20 years after that diagnosis, even past age 65.
Some women may need a different screening schedule based on her personal health history. Women who have opted to be vaccinated against HPV should still maintain a regular screening schedule.
Endometrial (uterine) cancer
While there is no routine screening for endometrial cancer, The American Cancer Society recommends that by menopause, women should be informed about the symptoms and risks of endometrial cancer. It's important that women report any unexpected spotting or bleeding immediately to their health care professional.
There continues to be some debate about whether or not the benefits of prostate cancer screening outweigh the harms of testing and treatment. Men should have a discussion with their healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of testing and treatment before undergoing any prostate screening. Studies have not yet shown that early screening lowers the risk of dying from prostate cancer.
Typically, this discusion happens around the age of 50 (closer to 45 for men who have a family history of prostate cancer or for African-American men). If men do opt for prostate cancer screening, they would have a PSA blood test (some times accompanied by a rectal exam). PSA test scheduling depends on the PSA level.
Colorectal cancer and polyps
Both men and women should be regularly screened for colorectal cancer and polyps (growths in the colon), starting at age 50. There are a variety of tests and screening time frames to discuss with your healthcare professional. Each of these exams is a type of colorectal cancer and polyp screening:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years), followed by a colonoscopy in the case of a positive test
- Colonoscopy (every 10 years)
- Double-contrast barium enema (every 5 years), followed by a colonoscopy in the case of a positive test
- CT colonography (every 5 years), followed by a colonoscopy in the case of a positive test
These additional tests may be used to identify colorectal cancer:
- Annual fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)
- Annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
- Stool DNA test (sDNA)
Some people may need more frequent screening based on personal or family history.
There are other types of ongoing screening that adults will have in the course of their routine annual health exams, including testing for thyroid cancer and skin cancer, as well as examination of the mouth, tongue, lymph nodes, ovaries or testes.
Complementary and Integrated Therapy
Complementary and integrated therapies are a group of treatments that are not a part of conventional western medical practice, but may be used by patients to achieve overall well-being. Patients may use these therapies to address the disease itself, to control treatment symptoms or to improve their quality of life.
It's important to keep in mind that these treatments may not have undergone the same rigorous scientific testing as more conventional treatments, although the field of integrated therapy is constantly changing, and some therapies are becoming widely accepted.
Complementary treatments are those treatments used in conjunction with (or along side) more conventional therapies recommended by healthcare professionals.
Many modern healthcare facilities are beginning to offer patients what is called integrated therapy. With integrated therapy, a patient's healthcare provider treats the patient with a combination of conventional and less-conventional therapies that form one holistic treatment plan.
Complementary medicine can include:
- Chiropractic care and massage therapy
- Vitamins, herbs and other dietary supplements
Chiropractic care and massage therapy
Chiropractic care and massage therapy both seek to improve a patient's health by working with the structures and systems of the body, including bones, joints, soft tissues, lymphatic and circulatory systems.
Chiropractic therapy involves manipulation of the spine and joints beyond their normal range of passive motion. Chiropractic therapy can help to make movement more comfortable and can help to alleviate back and neck pain.
Massage therapy is a broad group of therapies that involve manipulation of the body's muscles and soft tissues. Massage can help to reduce pain, rehabilitate past injuries, ease stress, boost relaxation, alleviate anxiety and improve overall health.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest healing practices in the world and is an element of traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture involves the stimulation of specific, targeted points on the body using a variety of techniques, including the insertion of thin, solid, metallic needles into the skin. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is used to help the body maintain a state of balance and to maintain a healthy flow of energy (called "qi") throughout the body. Today, scientists continue to study the efficacy of acupuncture for a variety of health conditions, including pain management, arthritis and migraines. According to the National Cancer Institute the strongest evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture comes from clinical trials that showed it decreased nausea and vomiting in patients suffering the effects of chemotherapy, surgery or morning sickness. In 1996, the FDA approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners.
Meditation is an ancient mind-body practice that began as a spiritual or religious practice. During meditation, patients sit with focused attention free of control or judgment. The goal of meditation is to induce a feeling of calm and relaxation while improving mental balance and enhancing overall health.
Yoga is an ancient mind-body tradition with roots in India. There are various styles of yoga that generally combine physical poses, breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation. Yoga is often used to boost overall health and to help with conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and epilepsy. Studies show yoga may also help to improve mood, alleviate insomnia and anxiety, lower heart rate and blood pressure, improve overall fitness and increase lung capacity.
Vitamins, herbs and other dietary supplements
A dietary supplement is a product that is intended to supplement the diet and may contain vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals. Many people use dietary supplements to maintain overall health as well as to treat or prevent certain illnesses and diseases. Speak with your doctor before using herbs and supplements while undergoing chemotherapy as according to the National Cancer Institute, supplements, and particularly certain herbs and antioxodants, may interact with and reduce the level of chemotherapy that enters your body. Remember vitamins, herbs and dietary supplements are active compounds that can have unintended consequences so it is extremely important to tell your doctor if you are taking supplements.
While the FDA does not determine if dietary supplements are effective before they go on the market, scientific research continues to explore how supplements can complement traditional therapies in the prevention and treatment of certain health conditions.
When starting or changing a dietary supplement regimen, there are a few important factors to keep in mind:
- Important Note: If you are undergoing chemotherapy treatments, be aware that certain supplements, antioxidants and herbs may decrease the effectiveness of your treatments (always tell your doctor what you are taking)
- Be an informed consumer and do your research on what supplements may be right for you
- Natural does not always mean safe
- Dietary supplements can interfere with over-the-counter and prescription drugs
- Keep your healthcare provider and pharmacist informed of the supplements you're taking or considering
Homeopathy was developed in Germany over 200 years ago, and functions on the principle of "like cures like," meaning that a disease can be cured by a substance that creates similar symptoms in healthy people. Generally, homeopathic remedies are created from natural substances (plants, minerals or animals) and are often placed under the tongue. Some of the main theories behind homeopathy clash with proven ideas in the fields of chemistry and physics, making scientific discovery on the efficacy of homeopathy challenging.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is cancer and how does it start?
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in your body. Although there are many kinds of cancer, all cancers start when abnormal cells grow out of control or lose their ability to die. Unlike cancer cells, normal cells grow, divide, and die in a predictable way.
Cancer can start in almost any organ or tissue, such as the lung, prostate, colon, breast, skin or bones. Once cancer starts, it can get into your bloodstream or lymph vessels and travel to other parts of your body, where it can form cancerous cells in new locations. Normal cells are unable to do this. The process of cancer spreading is called metastasis.
Most often cancer cells form a tumor, although not all tumors are cancerous. In some cases, such as leukemia, the cancer cells affect the blood and blood-forming organs and circulate through other tissues where they grow.
What are the types of cancer?
The term cancer is the general name for a group of more than 100 different diseases. Different types of cancer behave differently. For example, skin cancer and lung cancer grow at very different rates, as does pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer. The type of cancer you have will determine the type of treatment you will receive.
As we mentioned earlier, the process of cancer spreading is called metastasis. No matter where the cancer spreads, it is always defined by the place where it started. For example, when cancer starts in the lung and moves to the brain, it is called metastatic lung cancer. It is not called brain cancer because it didn't originate in the brain.
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. The three most common cancers in men in the United States are prostate, lung and colon cancer; and the three most common cancers in women in the United States are breast, colon and lung cancer.
The cause of many cancers is unknown, but some of the known causes include:
- Smoking tobacco
- Environmental, both man-made toxins and naturally occurring plant toxins
- Excessive exposure to sunlight
- Certain genetic conditions
- Drinking excess alcohol
How can I reduce my cancer risk?
According to the American Cancer Society, half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Ask your doctor about recommended cancer screenings or visit American Cancer Society for guidelines to help you detect cancer early. Detecting cancer early can significantly improve the outcome. You can also take control of your health by making smart lifestyle choices.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following preventive measures to reduce your cancer risk:
- Get regular cancer screenings and annual physicals
- Don't use tobacco products
- Get regular exercise
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit alcohol consumption (if you drink at all)
- Safeguard your skin from excessive sun exposure (sunscreen and cover up)
- Understand your family history and your risk factors
Types of Therapy
Chemotherapy (often called chemo) is the delivery of cancer-killing drugs through an IV (injected into a vein) or by mouth. These drugs travel through the bloodstream to cancer cells throughout the body. Generally chemo is given in rounds, with each period of treatment followed by a recovery period. Chemotherapy may be used before surgery to shrink large cancers so that they may shrink before surgery, or after surgery, to kill any cancer cells that may be left behind.
At Mile High Oncology chemotherapy treatments are given in our office by our oncology certified nurses. We provide a comfortable setting for patients receiving chemotherapy and encourage them to bring family or friends for company and support during their sessions.
Each patient consults with their doctor to become familiar with the individual treatment plan created specifically to treat their type of cancer. Patients can expect to be informed of potential side-effects, how we can help reduce or relieve side-effects, the length of individual chemotherapy sessions and how long their course of treatment will last. Throughout treatment, we use blood tests, CT Scans, MRI, PET Scans, radiology tests and tumor markers to monitor patient response to therapy .
As scientists learn more about gene and protein changes in cancer-causing cells, they have developed newer drugs that specifically target these changes. These targeted therapies work differently from standard chemo drugs, and they often have less severe side effects. Currently, targeted therapies are often used along with chemotherapy, or instead of chemo if it is no longer working.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered x-rays, particles or radioactive seeds to destroy cancer cells. Cancer cells multiply much faster than normal cells, and because radiation is most harmful to fast-growing cells, radiation therapy is more damaging to cancer cells than to normal cells. More specifically, radiation therapy upsets or damages the DNA of cancer cells, which prevents cancer cells from growing and dividing.
Radiation therapy is used to combat many kinds of cancer. It can shrink a tumor before surgery to make the operation more successful, or it may be administered after surgery to prevent recurrence of the cancer. For some types of cancer, radiation is the only necessary treatment. In other cases, radiation may be used in combination with chemotherapy, surgery or other medical treatments.
Radiation therapy can be given two ways. External beam radiation, the most common form, uses a machine to focus the radiation on the area affected by the cancer. Treatments are generally given five days a week for one to ten weeks, depending on the size and type of cancer.
External beam radiation is painless and only takes a few minutes. Including time to get the machines set up, a session takes about 15 to 30 minutes. The radiation is aimed at your tumor from a machine.
Brachytherapy, also known as internal radiation, is another way to deliver radiation therapy. Instead of aiming radiation from outside the body, radioactive seeds are placed directly into or adjacent to the cancerous tissues.
Radiation therapy is more helpful for certain types of cancer than others. Some types of cancer are impacted more by radiation, and some areas are easier to treat with radiation without significant side effects.