October 17, 2023
– By Debbie Quinn –
ENI partner communities and their Advisory Groups answered questions about health in their communities. These conversations surfaced a few health issues that were of major concern across the state. ENI will begin to address these concerns through a Health Equity Plan for each community. We’d also like to highlight some of these concerns here to build capacity to deal with the health and quality of life challenges of tomorrow, starting today.
Cancer is one of many medical diagnoses that strikes fear into patients. Nearly everyone has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis at some point or another. Maybe a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. Or perhaps, you have been diagnosed with cancer yourself. You are not alone.
Each year tens of millions of Americans are treated for cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, 40.5% of the United States population will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetime. But what is cancer? And how can you prevent it?
What is cancer?
There are trillions of cells in your body. Each day some cells die, some cells grow, and others multiply. Cancer results when something goes awry during this process.
According to the Mayo Clinic cancer is “the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue.” In medicine, the term cancer is used to describe abnormal cells multiplying, taking over a part of your body, or even migrating to other places.
Cancer can affect many parts of your body, from your skin cells to your brain and even your blood. While the various types of cancers, and the number of people cancer impacts, can be scary, the good news is that we are getting better at diagnosing and treating cancer. We also are learning more every year about how to prevent it.
What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?
While the signs and symptoms of cancer vary depending upon the part of the body affected by the disease, the Mayo Clinic has identified some of the general signs of cancer:
- Lump or area of thickening that can be felt under the skin
- Weight changes, including unintended loss or gain
- Skin changes, such as yellowing, darkening or redness of the skin, sores that won’t heal, or changes to existing moles
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Persistent cough or trouble breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent indigestion or discomfort after eating
- Persistent, unexplained muscle or joint pain
- Persistent, unexplained fevers or night sweats
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising
What should I do if I have signs or symptoms of cancer?
While some of the signs and symptoms of cancer, such as fatigue, can be caused by different illnesses, you should always make an appointment with a medical professional to discuss new health issues.
Even if you don’t have current signs or symptoms of cancer, your medical provider can help you prevent cancer. Cancer, as well as many other diseases, can be influenced by age, sex, lifestyle, family history and your environment. Based upon your risks and concerns your doctor can refer you for screening tests. Your provider can also help you make healthy changes that decrease your risk of cancer.
How important is early detection in the successful treatment of cancer? What screening methods are recommended for different types of cancer?
When it comes to preventing and treating cancer, early detection is everything. While cancer can affect many different parts of the body, there are some cancers that are more common than others or affect certain populations. Below are a few of the types of screenings that help patients detect and prevent cancer early:
- Routine blood work (hematological cancer)
- Annual skin and mole checks (skin cancer)
- Regular prostate exams (prostate cancer)
- Pap Smears (gynecological cancer)
- Mammogram and breast self-exams (breast cancer)
- Chest x-rays (lung cancer)
- Colorectal exams and stool samples (colorectal cancer)
While these are the easiest and most routine early detection exams, your medical team refer you to the right tests based upon your medical and family history.
What types of lifestyle changes do medical professionals recommend to reduce my risk of developing cancer?
The Mayo Clinic provides several examples of how to reduce your risk of cancer, including:
- Quit smoking: Smoking increases your risk of many types of cancer – not just lung cancer. Even if your currently smoke, quitting now can dramatically reduce your risk of cancer in the future.
- Protect your skin: By avoiding excessive sun exposure you can prevent skin cancer. You can protect your skin by limiting your sun exposure and wearing sunscreen (SPF 30+) and protective clothing when outside.
- Eat a healthy diet: A diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins will reduce your risk of many types of cancers. Reducing your intake of red and processed meats can also decrease your risk of certain cancers.
- Exercise often: Exercising regularly has many positive health outcomes – including lowering your risk of cancer. Try to work out for at least 30 mins per day most days of the week. And remember, exercise can be fun! A walk with a friend or a pet, a dance class and group sports are great ways to get in 30 minutes of exercise per day,
- Limit your alcohol intake: If you choose to drink, drink in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
- Ask your doctor about immunizations: There are now immunizations available that prevent your risk of developing liver cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and cervical cancers. Ask your doctor about whether these immunizations are a good choice for you.
Where can I learn more about cancer prevention and treatment?
The best place for information is your medical provider, as they can provide you with information specific to your needs. The websites below are also great resources on cancer prevention and treatment:
Alabama Department of Public Health: https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/cancer/
Centers for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/index.htm
The American Medical Association: https://www.ama-assn.org/topics/cancer