Cancer is the general name for well over 200 different diseases, each with some common traits that can affect virtually every part of the body, including the organs. These common traits are abnormal cell division, the tendency to be invasive and the tendency to spread from one area to another. Cancer is typically named for the body part or organ where it is first discovered or can be named for the kind of tissue in which it arises. For most people, however, it does not matter where it is or what kind of tumor is growing there, it is cancer and it is very scary.
In women, reproductive cancers (breast cancer or pelvic area cancers) make up about ½ of all cases. In women, lung cancer is the biggest cause of cancer-related death followed by breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers. The earlier that a cancer is found, the better the prognosis will be. There are a number of tests that should be done, especially for people in certain risk groups, with recommendations given for these tests. In addition, there are some dietary suggestions that the American Cancer Society suggests as being beneficial to reduce cancer risk. In addition, proper nutrition during the treatments of cancer (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) is also very important.
Cancer’s Warning Signs to Watch For
While these warning signs are not perfect by any means, it is important to not only know them but to pay heed to them and have them checked by a doctor if you notice any of the following:
– A change in bladder or bowel habits
– Unusual discharge or bleeding
– A lump or thickening in the breast or anywhere else
– Persistent indigestion or a difficulty in swallowing
– Changes in a wart or mole
– A nagging cough or an unusually hoarse voice
– A sore that does not heal
Not all cancers will present with all or even with any of these warning signs, as some cancers are silent and will grow without any kind of hint at all. Prostate cancer, for instance, can lay dormant in the body for decades. For many doctors, the feeling is that because it is typically found in older men and because the cancer is usually so slow to move, a wait and see approach is better than trying to treat it more aggressively. This is one instance where the treatment might actually be worse than the disease.
Testing Schedule for Cancer
There are a number of screening tests that the American Cancer Society recommends for those without other risk factors. Those who do have increased risk, including those with a family history of particular cancers, should follow the guidelines established by their own physician.
These guidelines should be followed:
– A sigmoidoscopy (preferably flexible) should be done for both genders starting at age fifty and should be repeated every 3-5 years.
– Fecal occult blood tests (which checks for bowel cancer) should be done for both genders starting at age fifty and should be done yearly.
– Digital rectal exams, for both genders starting at age forty, should be done yearly.
– Pap tests (which check for cervical cancer by looking at cervical cells) should be done for all women who have become sexually active or have reached the age of 18. There is some controversy over how often the pap smear should be repeated, with the doctors suggesting that it be done every year until there have been three normal tests in a row and then every two years. The insurance industry is suggesting that the testing interval be every two to three years if there are no abnormalities found. Each woman’s doctor should be allowed to make the decision for these tests individually. In addition, the HPV test may be better than the standard pap smear at catching cervical cancer in its earliest and therefore most treatable period.
– Pelvic exams for women, with two different guidelines: for women ages 18-40, it should be done every 1-3 years, and for those over 40, every year.
– Endometrial tissue samples should be taken for the first time after a woman has reached menopause. The doctor will define how often this should be done for women who are considered to be at high risk.
– Breast self exams should be done by women at home every month once they reach the age of 18-20. The doctor should show the woman how to do this correctly. There are also charts online that you can print out and follow until you are comfortable with the best procedure (A tip: doing your breast exam in the shower is the easiest way to do it because the soap and water allows your fingers to glide over your skin in a much smoother way).
– Mammography should be done starting at age 50 and repeated every 1-2 years, unless the woman is deemed high risk.
Dietary Suggestions to Reduce the Risk of Cancer
There are several foods that the American Cancer Society recommends as being beneficial to reducing the risk of developing certain cancers. These foods are:
– Soy or dried beans. Both contain plant estrogens, which may reduce the risk or certain pelvic cancers as well as breast cancer.
– Tomatoes, carrots and red peppers. These are rich in vitamin C as well as carotenoids, which may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
– Greens and cruciferous vegetables. These may reduce the risk of lung, colon, rectal, stomach and esophageal cancers. They may also play a role in reducing additional cancers, including breast, bladder, pancreas and larynx cancers.
– Garlic, onion and leeks. These contain allium compounds that may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
– Olive oil. It may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
– Milk and milk products. They may reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers.
– Salmon and other oily fish. They may reduce overall cancer risk.
Jim’s Non-Treatment for Cancer: A Case Study
Jim’s wife Rachel has nagged him to get his prostrate exam done for two years. He finally agrees to do so and finds out that he has prostate cancer. After hearing the word, Jim is ready to panic; after all, his brother, Dave, just died from lung cancer and it was horrible for the entire family to watch him go through it. He is shocked when the doctor tells him that because it is small and not causing any problems with his other functions, the plan is to wait and watch this tumor. Relieved, Jim comes home and vows to follow all of the doctor’s guidelines for better overall health.
Jim decides to start eating better, including having more fruits and vegetables and no more fried or fatty foods. He cannot give up his chocolate habit, though, so he switches it out for dark chocolate for the antioxidant boost that he can get from an ounce of dark chocolate. He is going to continue golfing on the weekends, of course, but now he is walking the dog with his wife through the week for extra exercise and to spend more time with the people that he loves. Twice a day, Jim drinks a protein supplement which gives him 25 grams of protein in only 100 calories.