Getting the jump on cancer

10/13/2012

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

Early detection is key to fighting many types of diseases that often don't have symptoms.

One of the most serious of those diseases is cancer.

According to doctors and health specialists, screening can help detect various forms of cancer so they can be treated more easily, and often cured.

"Screening tests can help find cancer at an early stage, before symptoms appear. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat or cure. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown and spread. This can make the cancer harder to treat or cure," according to the National Cancer Institute.

Locally, residents have several options for screening or treatment.

Stephanie Waggoner, chief executive officer of United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries, said it's important for community members to visit physicians and get screened.

"Community members really need to establish a medical home where they have a relationship with a primary care physician. That way they can focus on prevention as a whole. Cancer is one of the screening tools, but there are also other screenings that are important, as well," she said.

The two programs that are most well-known for cancer education and screenings at UMMAM are the Early Detection Works, the breast and cervical cancer initiative, and a partnership UMMAM has with KU Med Center.

Irma Robbins is a community health worker that is working with the Cancer Health Disparities Network, educating the Latino population in southwest Kansas about health in general, as well as working with the community to improve treatment and increase awareness about cancer prevention, screening and risk-reduction, according to Diana Machotka, marketing and recruitment coordinator at UMMAM.

"Medical providers can screen patients for cancers as needed when they schedule an appointment," she said.

The Cancer Center at St. Catherine Hospital offers diagnostic PET Scan Services, dual energy linear accelerator, a simulator for pre-treatment and testing, and a 3D treatment planning program that utilizes the latest in computer technology to aid in defining treatment areas while avoiding harm to at-risk organs, according to its website.

Screening tests can include a physical exam or body scan to check general signs for disease, including checking for lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of a person's health habits and past illnesses and treatments also is taken into consideration for screening.

Screening also can be done with laboratory tests that take samples of the blood, urine or other substances in the body, according to the NCI.

Doctors also can take images of areas inside the body that are cause for concern. Genetic testing that looks for certain gene mutations that are linked to some types of cancer also is used.

The American Cancer Society recommends several guidelines for the early detection of cancer. People 20 or older should have periodic health exams, a cancer-related check-up should include health counseling and, depending on a person's age and gender, exams for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes and ovaries, as well as for some non-malignant (non-cancerous) diseases.

The ACS recommends yearly mammograms for women starting at age 40, clinical breast exams every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and older.

"Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care provider. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s," according to the ACS's website

Beginning at age 50, both men and women should get the following exams: flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, or colonoscopy every 10 years, or a double-contrast barium enema every five years or a virtual colonoscopy every five years to detect polyps and cancer.

For cervical cancer, women should begin screening at age 21. Women between 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years. Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus HPV test every five years.

The ACS recommends that at the time of menopause, all women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Women should report any unexpected bleeding or spotting to their doctors. Some women, because of their history, may need to consider having a yearly endometrial biopsy.

The ACS recommends that men make an informed decision with their doctor about whether to be tested for prostate cancer. Research has not yet proven that the potential benefits of testing outweigh the harms of testing and treatment. The American Cancer Society believes men should not be tested without learning about the risks and possible benefits of testing and treatment.

Black men, or men who have a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65, should have this talk with a doctor starting at age 45. If men decide to be tested, they should have the PSA blood test with or without a rectal exam. How often they are tested will depend on their PSA level.

Some health issues cannot be avoided, but the ACS recommends several health guidelines to help prevent cancer, including staying away from tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight, regular physical activity, nutrition with plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting alcohol, protecting skin from sun and tanning bed exposure, being aware of family histories and having regular check-ups and screening tests.

For more information on The Cancer Center at St. Catherine, visit www.stcath-hosp.org/services/cancer.php, or call 272-2579. To contact UMMAM, call 275-1766 or visit www.ummam.org

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