Are You at Risk? Here's How to Find Out.

According to the American Cancer Society, “In 2017, there will be an estimated 1,688,780 new cancer cases diagnosed and 600,920 cancer deaths in the U.S.”

 

We are not left completely helpless when it comes to cancer, however. There are steps we can take to prevent cancer from forming as well as identify cancer early while there is still time to cure or effectively treat it.

 

What causes cancer?

 

When attempting to prevent cancer from forming in your body, it’s helpful to first understand what the common causes of cancer are so that we can do our best to avoid these contaminants. Cancer is caused by substances known as carcinogens, which include radiation, some chemicals, even some bacteria and viruses.

 

Emory Winship Cancer Institute provides lists of common causes of cancer, including environmental exposures, geographical influences, and lifestyle causes such as these:

 

  • Cigarette smoke, alcohol, and drugs
  • Exposure to asbestos, nickel, coal, or tar
  • Parasites, some bacteria, and viruses such as Hepatitis B and food contamination
  • Obesity, Insulin resistance, and chronic inflammation 

 

As you can see, many of these can be prevented with lifestyle choices including:

 

  • Practicing food safety procedures
  • Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet
  • Staying active
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding contaminants from the environment

 

We should all do what we can to maintain healthy lifestyles, yet it still may be a good idea to undergo regular cancer screenings as well.

 

Cancer screening is looking for cancer before symptoms appear. If found early, treatment can be started when it has the best chance of being most productive.

 

Screening tests include:

 

  • Physical Exams - A doctor examines your physical body and asks questions about your history and health habits
  • Lab Tests - Samples of blood, tissue, or body substances are analyzed
  • Imaging - Pictures are taken of the inside of the body
  • Genetic Tests - Screening performed to look for gene mutations

 

There are a few important things to know about cancer screenings:

 

  • False-negatives are possible
  • Finding cancer through a screening does not always prolong life
  • Some tests come with risks, such as bleeding from a colonoscopy

 

Your healthcare provider can discuss any concerns with you and inform you on what to expect. Together the two of you can determine if screenings should be performed.

 

If you are not at an elevated risk for any certain type of cancer and you are wondering what type of screening should be performed as a preventive measure, the American Cancer Society provides age, test, and frequency guidelines for several different types of cancer.

 

The National Cancer Institute states that there are more than 100 types of cancer. This month is Blood, Ovarian, and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Because it is impossible to address all cancers in any detail here, we will highlight these three, discussing who is at risk and what tests should be considered.

 

Blood Cancers

 

What are blood cancers?

Blood cancers include Leukemia, Lymphoma, Myeloma, and Myelodysplastic syndromes. Leukemia is one of the most common blood cancers. Currently, there is not a screening test to detect leukemia at its earliest stages before symptoms appear. For those who don't have an increased risk, annual blood work is the best precaution. An abnormal blood count may be the best way to signal your doctor that leukemia is present before any symptoms present themselves. 

 

Who is at greatest risk of leukemia?

Those who have had exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene, and those with a family history of leukemia are at greater risk.

 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of leukemia may include fatigue, fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, bone or joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.

 

How are blood cancers tested?

A doctor performs a physical exam, checking for swollen lymph nodes and enlarged spleen or liver. After this, blood and bone marrow tests are performed to confirm a diagnosis.

 

Ovarian Cancer

 

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer forms in a woman's ovaries. Watch this video to further understand ovarian cancer.

 

Who is at greatest risk?

Women who have already experienced menopause, have never been pregnant, are obese, have an inherited gene mutation, or have had fertility treatments are at greater risk.

 

What are the symptoms?

In the early stages, ovarian cancer does not produce symptoms.

 

How is ovarian cancer tested?

Trans-vaginal ultrasound or a blood test for the serum marker CA-125 (a protein produced by ovarian cancer) is used for those at risk. An annual gynecologic exam with pelvic examination is all that is recommended for those that don't have an elevated risk.

 

Prostate Cancer

 

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is found in a male's prostate. Watch this video to further understand prostate cancer.

 

Who is at greatest risk?

Men who are over the age of 50, have a family history of prostate cancer, have African-American or Caribbean ancestry, or have inherited gene mutations are at greater risk. Diets high in red meat or high-fat dairy, obesity, and smoking also increase risk.

 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include difficulty urinating, frequent urination, blood in the urine, erectile dysfunction, weakness in the legs, or pain in the hips, back, or chest.

 

How is prostate cancer tested?

Prostate cancer is detected either by digital rectal exam, PSA or prostate-specific antigen test, or biopsy. For many men, active surveillance is the best course of action. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.

 

. . .

 

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you likely have many questions. Talk to your doctor about your questions and concerns. If you think of questions after your appointment, the American Cancer Society answers several questions here: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis.html

 

If you have questions about adolescent-specific cancers, read our blog on Childhood Cancer.

 

Looking for emotional support after a diagnosis or symptoms? First and foremost, lean on Jesus Christ. Absorb his Word daily, and reach out to friends that will encourage you in the Word. Life after a cancer diagnosis can be filled with questions and uncertainty. Everyone is different and it is important to take time to adjust to a new normal.

 

Look for Christian cancer support groups in your area. The American Cancer Society also has a variety of programs.