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Archive for March, 2014

cancer2

In this article I would like to summarize information for a variety of common cancers as the second of my three-part series on the disease.

Breast: More than 225,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected this year among women and over 2,000 cases in men. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women. Increasing age is the most common risk factor. The survival rate has improved dramatically due to early detection and improving treatments.

Prostate: Close to 250,000 new cases of prostate cancer are expected this year. It is the most common cancer for men. Increasing age is the most common risk factor. Fortunately more than 90 percent of all prostate cancers are discovered before metastasis occurs, for which there is a five year survival rate close to 100 percent.

Lung: Some 250,000 cases of lung cancer are expected this year which accounts for more deaths than any other cancer in both men and women. Cigarette smoking is by far the most common risk factor for lung cancer, and increases depending on the number of cigarettes smoked daily and the number of years of smoking. Death rates are dropping as a greater number of people are quitting smoking.

Colon and Rectum: Over 150,000 cases of colorectal cancer are expected this year. Fortunately, the rate is falling significantly as more people are having colonoscopies which allows for the removal of precancerous polyps. Only 65 percent of eligible adults have been screened as recommended.

Urinary bladder: Some 75,000 cases of bladder cancer are expected this year. It is found four times more frequently in men than in women. The most common symptom is blood in the urine.

Uterine: Almost 50,000 cases are expected this year. Early symptoms include vaginal bleeding or spotting, as well as pelvic pain. Obesity and exposure to the hormone estrogen are risk factors.

Melanoma: Close to 80,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma, a potentially deadly skin cancer which often metastasizes to other parts of the body. Major risk factors include family history of melanoma, the presence of numerous moles (more than 50), and exposure to ultraviolet rays mostly from sun exposure, but also from tanning booths.

Kidney: Over 65,000 cases of kidney cancer are expected this year. There are usually no symptoms early in the disease. Tobacco use is a strong risk factor.

Lymphoma: Close to 70,000 cases of lymphoma will occur this year. This is a cancer of lymphocytes, a type of blood cell. Symptoms include swollen lymph glands, night sweats, weight loss, fatigue, and fever.

Leukemia: Around 50,000 cases of leukemia are expected this year. Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood cells. Leukemia is difficult to diagnose early because symptoms often mimic other less-serious conditions.

Pancreas: Some 45,000 cases of pancreatic cancer are expected this year. Unfortunately, there are very few symptoms early in the disease, and is therefore not detected until it has spread to other organs. By the time it is detected treatment is often unsuccessful.

Ovary: Over 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. Symptoms are often nonspecific and include sensations of bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, and urinary urgency and frequency. Diagnosis is usually confirmed by a pelvic exam and ultrasound test.

Cervical: Around 12,000 cases will occur this year in women. The most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding. The Pap test is the most common screening method. The primary cause of cervical cancer is infection with the human papillomavirus transmitted by sexual intercourse. It can now be prevented by a vaccine, which is highly recommended for females and males from ages nine to 26.

In this article, I have attempted to cover the most common types of cancer. Unfortunately there is a long list of other less common cancers.

My next and final article on cancer will discuss treatment and prevention of cancer. It will publish March 28.

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C

My stem cell transplant has been put off for a while until I see some improvement of severe peripheral neuropathy in my feet and legs caused by the chemotherapy I received. So I am at home biding my time and able to continue writing for the foreseeable future. I’d like to begin today a three-part series on cancer.

Cancer definition and a description

When my oncologist told me that I had multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, all I could hear was the dreaded word “cancer.” I felt as if I had just received a death sentence. Even as a seasoned physician I found this difficult to accept. Throughout my career it was always other people who got cancer, not me. When I shared this news with my wife we both had a good cry. It wasn’t until I was told that of all the known cancers—multiple myeloma has one of the most successful treatments for remission—was I then able to get a grip on reality and wanted to get started with treatment.

Since my diagnosis, it seems that everyone I talk to has either had cancer, or has a family member or friend with cancer. It struck me that cancer is a lot more prevalent in our society than I had realized.

What exactly is cancer? Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that have the ability to spread to and destroy normal body tissue. Cancer cells may stay in one location only or they can spread to all parts of the body by traveling through the blood stream or the lymph system. Once cancer cells arrive at their final destination, they begin to grow and destroy normal tissue. When cancer spreads in this manner it is referred to as metastasis.

Cancer can be caused by internal factors such as genetic mutations, immune system conditions and metabolic disorders, and also by external factors, such as radiation or chemical exposures, tobacco or alcohol use, and even by infectious organisms.

As I have found out, anyone can develop cancer. The risk of cancer increases with age, with the majority of cancers occurring in those above 55 years of age. Sadly, it can also affect the very young. The risk for getting cancer over the course of a lifetime is one in two for men and for women it is one in three. In other words, one-half of all men and one-third of all women can expect to develop some form of cancer during their lifetimes. Only about five percent of all cancers are due to heredity (an internal factor) and the remainder are due to damage to genes occurring during one’s lifetime (the external factors as mentioned above).

About 15 million Americans are living with cancer. It is expected that over a million and a half new cases of cancer will occur this year. Almost 600,000 people will die this year from cancer which works out to more than 1,500 people a day. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. exceeded only by heart disease. The cost of cancer is high, with some $100 billion being spent on direct medical care and treatment and about $125 billion of lost productivity due to premature death.

Common symptoms of cancer are:

– A change in weight, especially unintended weight loss.

– Significant fatigue or unexplained increasing pain.

– Changes of skin color, or texture or changes to an existing skin mole, or a sore that doesn’t heal.

– Persistent cough, difficulty swallowing, or hoarseness.

– Changes in bowel or bladder habits.

Risk factors for cancer include:

– Age. Since cancer can take long to develop it most commonly occurs later in life.

– Habits. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to the sun or tanning facilities, and unsafe sex.

– Environmental. Exposure to certain chemicals and second-hand smoke.

– Family history. Cancer development passed on through genes.

– Excess weight and lack of exercise.

There is some good news amongst all this information about cancer and that is that the survival rate for most cancers is improving. This encouraging improvement is due to earlier diagnosis of many cancers, as well as improvement of treatments.

In my next article I will discuss some of the most common types of cancers.

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