There are more than 100 kinds of cancer. While it’s impossible to screen for or prevent all of them, there are many that we can. Dr. Angela Olerich of McFarland Clinic Webster City Family Medicine explains what cancer is, how to screen for it, and how to reduce your risk for it.
What is Cancer?
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Cancer is a broad term given to many related diseases. One thing they all have in common is uncontrolled or unregulated cell growth. Typically our body controls specific cell growth to maintain proper function and keep different systems separated. When certain cells divide uncontrollably and potentially invade surrounding tissues, this is called a cancer. Some grow fast, and some grow slow. It can also spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, not just to the surrounding tissues.
Cancer in general is very difficult to predict, but there are many that we can screen for and help to prevent. Talk to your primary care provider at a yearly physical to discuss your personalized routine screening recommendations.
Cervical Cancer Screening
For women, screening for cervical cancer through pap tests starting at age 21 can catch precancerous lesions before they become cancer. If your exams are normal, these screenings can now be done every three or five years depending on age and risk factors. Talk to your doctor to know how often you should have this done.
Colon Cancer Screening
In both men and women, colon cancer screening is routinely recommended starting at age 50 with a colonoscopy. If we can find and remove precancerous lesions, we can help prevent or reduce your risk of colon cancer. You may need a colonscopy before age 50 if you have a family history or other risk factors. Talk with your doctor for more information on timing for you.
Breast Cancer Screening
Mammograms are one way of screening for breast cancer. These should be done at least every two years starting at age 50, and in many people starting at age 40 depending on risk factors and family history. We also recommend self-exams at home.
Hepatitis C Screening
An additional screening for some is to get tested for hepatitis C. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, which is most often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common type of viral hepatitis is Hepatitis C. Over time chronic Hepatitis C can lead to serious liver problems including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer. The CDC recommends that anyone who was born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for Hepatitis C once.
Nothing can guarantee cancer prevention, but there are things you can do to help reduce your risk.
Avoid Tobacco Use
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and cigarette smoking causes almost all cases of this cancer. Compared to nonsmokers, current smokers are about 25 times more likely to die from lung cancer. Smoking causes about 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths. It also causes 15 other types of cancers. Yearly low dose CT lung cancer screening is now recommended in people aged 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
Protect Your Skin
Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. Exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning beds appears to be the most impactful environmental factor involved with developing skin cancer. To help prevent skin cancer while still having fun outdoors, protect yourself by seeking shade, applying sunscreen, and wearing sun-protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Research has shown that being overweight raises a person’s risk of getting some cancers, including endometrial or uterine cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancers. Eat plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables to increase fiber in your diet, and stay active.
Vaccines that Reduce Your Risk
HPV vaccines can also help prevent cancers caused by the human papilloma virus, like cervical cancer in women, and multiple other cancers in men as well. Also, Hepatitis B vaccines can reduce the risk of liver cancer.