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'Cancer Prevention & Screening' posts

Is it ok to laugh with cancer?

“Is it okay to laugh?”

The question caught me off guard for a moment, then its meaning sunk in.  She was really saying, “Cancer is serious stuff, my breast has been cut on and radiated, and you’ve given me cancer fighting poisons in my veins. My hair has fallen out, food tastes funny, and I’m on a first name basis with the muzak at my insurance company. I’ve done my crying, but is it appropriate to laugh at it all?”

I remembered back to an intimidating nurse critiquing a tape of my very first patient interview during my second month of medical school. Her eyes were sharp and piercing and her brow furrowed as she watched the tape. Half way through she stopped it, turned it off, and said, “You are flippant…. I don’t much care for it.” My heart sank, and then she continued without a smile, but with a twinkle in her eyes, “but it works for you, so don’t mind me and keep on doing it.”

I believe that humor is therapeutic. Of  course, that is not a new idea. The saying, “laughter is the best medicine” did not originate with Readers Digest. The biblical record states, “A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth bones” (Proverbs 17:22). I don’t know that a merry heart will add time to a cancer patient’s life, but I know that it will add life to the time that they have.  

We don’t know a lot about the physiological effects of humor. It does ....

When a mole is more than a mole

As a general surgeon, I am often asked to evaluate a patient with an abnormal mole (pigmented nevus) or one that has been biopsied, revealing a premalignant or malignant growth.  It is not uncommon for the patient to tell me they either were totally unaware of the lesion or dismissed changes in the lesion over time. 

All skin cancers are not alike, and melanoma, a malignant cancer of pigmented skin cells (melanocytes), is by far the most dangerous of the group, accounting for over 75% of skin cancer deaths in the United States.  This amounts to about 48,000 melanoma related deaths world wide per year. 

Found early, when the lesion is superficial and small, cure rates are high, but as the cancer progresses, it invades deeper into the skin, and becomes far more likely to spread far from where it started.  It is for this reason that  ...

5 things to know about cancer screenings

Cancer causes 580,000 deaths a year in the United States. One in eight women will develop breast cancer and one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetimes. However, many deaths can be prevented when cancer is detected at an early stage. Cancer screening and risk assessment tests are the tools we use to find cancers early.
 
How do we find early cancers?

Some cancer screenings can be done yourself at home at essentially no cost or risk. This includes regular self-examination of the breasts, testicles and skin. Home fecal occult blood testing can also be done to screen for colorectal cancer. Additional information on cancer screening and self-examinations can be found on websites such as www.cancer.org or www.webmd.com.

 
Other screening requires medical interventions. There is good evidence that well-targeted screening saves lives. However, screening tests such as mammography, colonoscopy and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) are  ...

What should I do about a thyroid nodule?

Thyroid nodules are extremely common and studies have shown that about half of us have at least one!

Fortunately, most of these nodules do not pose any health risks. Not all thyroid nodules are benign, however, and in a minority of cases (about 5-15%) may contain a cancer.  The challenge, of course, is figuring out which nodules are cause for concern and which ones are not.

With increased use of high-resolution imaging, more nodules are being identified today than ever before.  It is also not uncommon for someone to learn they have a nodule “incidentally” after a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound that was performed for some other medical reason.

If you think you may have a thyroid nodule, or if one has been found incidentally by medical imaging, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor will likely take several steps, including:

Breast cancer awareness is about information, not a color

In recent years, the colors of October seem to have changed from red, orange, and gold to pink, pink and more pink. I have always loved pink, well before becoming a breast cancer surgeon, but like many of us, I find the pink of October overwhelming, especially at this point in the month.

I appreciate and endorse the continued focus on breast cancer, but often the important information is drowned out by the rah-rah-rah of the awareness campaigns. Many women (and men) are “aware” of breast cancer, but never truly become aware of what it really is, what it really means, until they find themselves dealing with the cold terror of a palpable mass or a call-back after mammogram. They need information, not just pink blenders. 

Breast cancer is ...

Cancer control and survivorship

I recently attended the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) meeting, a consortium of research institutions doing clinical trials on cancer. The conference highlighted how new research will remarkably affect cancer survivorship, quality of life (QOL), integrative care and our ability to predict and provide needed services more accurately and with greater cost effectiveness for cancer survivors. The tools for implementing cancer control are evolving quickly.

Here are some highlights from the meeting:

  • Biomarkers, which are any human characteristics that are measurable including everything from gene expression (or over-expression) to pain surveys, can potentially predict long term survival as well as the specific services that will most benefit patients.
  • Symptoms that are increasingly predictable by biomarker assays include fatigue, insomnia, pain, anorexia, nausea, depression and others. This means that we will soon be able to better predict the patients who will be affected by these problems and deliver interventions much earlier and more effectively.
  • Patient satisfaction is frequently not related to treatment outcome. Factors such as QOL and survivorship are important.
  • Lung cancer patients suffer inordinately high, long-term QOL deficits. Many of these respond well to interventions but interventions are frequently not provided to patients with lung cancer.
  • Symptom clusters ...

Breast cancer awareness: What's good for our breasts is good for the rest

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Sports teams are wearing pink, survivors are telling their stories, and pink ribbons are everywhere. Women battling the disease and people who care for them are educating others about the importance of early detection. People who may never have been personally touched by breast cancer are showing their support by volunteering, raising funds for research and getting involved in other ways. It is a world of PINK! And that’s a good thing.

But……sometimes it feels like we spend so much time talking about breast cancer we forget to talk about our general health. Breasts are important, but so is the rest! There are things you can do to both decrease your risk of breast cancer and improve your health overall:

  • Get moving! You don’t have to run marathons. Even moderate walking 30 min, 4-5 days a week is beneficial. Adding resistance or weight training is ideal. Life is busy, but if you look you will find ways to fit exercise into your daily routine. You’ll be decreasing cancer risk and preventing osteoporosis. Plus, inactive women have more heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and depression than active woman.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. It can make a big difference - especially avoiding weight gain after menopause. Keeping your body mass index (BMI) <25 is ideal. (Click here for a tool to help calculate your BMI). Gaining even 20lbs during the course of adulthood has been shown to increase risk of breast cancer for some women.

  • Eat a healthy diet that is high in:
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