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Cheating Cancer

Posted 7/6/2017 by UHBlog

Do you have a family history of cancer, or do your age and/or lifestyle put you at risk of developing cancer? Ask us which screenings are right for you.

Cheating Cancer

When it comes to cancer, knowledge is power. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about screenings designed to catch the disease early, when it’s most treatable.

“Screening is an evaluation of any disease process when the patient is asymptomatic and feeling healthy,” says cardiothoracic and diagnostic radiologist Robert C. Gilkeson, MD. “We know, unfortunately, when you have (rectal) bleeding or you’re coughing up blood, that’s usually a sign the cancer has advanced and may not be operable. But with screening, if the disease is going to exist, it’s often found at a point where you can be treated in a favorable way – either through medication, therapy or a less-invasive surgery.”

Screening recommendations vary from person to person and from disease to disease. Some folks are more susceptible to developing certain cancers because of their age, gender or family history, while others may be at risk because of lifestyle choices (i.e., smoking or frequent sunbathing).

Four of the most common cancers – colorectal (colon), lung, prostate and skin – claim the lives of 300,000 men in the United States annually. Lung cancer alone kills 160,000 men and women each year. Using this screening checklist as a guide, in conjunction with your doctor’s recommendations, just may help you stay cancer-free:

Colorectal – Recommended for men and women ages 50 – 75.

  • Colonoscopy – Performed under anesthesia, this procedure allows the doctor to guide a flexible tube into the large intestine to examine the lining for tumors and other abnormalities.
  • Sigmoidoscopy – Also performed under anesthesia, during this procedure, the doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube into the anus, rectum and lower colon to look for tumors and other abnormalities.
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – Stool samples are collected on cards to look for abnormal blood that could signal cancer.

Lung – Recommended for men and women ages 55 – 77 and people who are heavy smokers or past smokers who have quit in the last 15 years.

  • Low-dose computed tomography – This CT scan, taken while you stay still and hold your breath for five seconds, can detect lung cancer at the earliest stage.

Prostate – Recommended for men by their doctor. Not necessarily needed for those who are asymptomatic, but personal and family health history should be considered.

  • Digital rectal exam – The doctor checks the prostate gland for tumors by gently inserting one finger into the rectum and pressing on the pelvis. Stool samples may also be collected for an FOBT.
  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test – This blood test checks for cancerous tissue in the prostate.

Skin – Recommended for men and women of any age as determined by your doctor. There are no specific recommendations for or against routine screening for individuals with no family history of skin cancer or no suspicious moles or growths. Personal health, family history and lifestyle should be considered.

  • A clinician examines skin on the entire body for moles or growths that are asymmetrical, irregularly shaped, unevenly colored, larger than the size of a pea or recently changing.

Don’t let a fear of the unknown deter you from getting screenings, Dr. Gilkeson says.

“The initial discomfort may not be fun, but compared to subsequent treatments or therapies of more advanced-stage disease, that discomfort far outweighs the initial inconvenience,” he says.

There’s no doubt that catching cancers early through screenings may save or extend your life. But the best scenario is to never develop cancer in the first place. Although not all cancers are preventable, Dr. Gilkeson says you can minimize your risk for many cancers by:

  • Not smoking
  • Limiting or eliminating alcoholic beverages
  • Controlling sun exposure, wearing sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds
  • Eating a high-fiber, low-fat diet
  • Sleeping seven to nine hours each night
  • Seeing your doctor for yearly checkups

Robert (Chip) Gilkeson, MD, is a cardiothoracic imaging diagnostic radiologist, Vice Chairman of Research, and Director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Center of UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Gilkeson or any other doctor online.

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