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Keep calm and know cancer: By Shabana Dewani, MD
March 25, 2015
We can prevent cancer and someday we will even be able to cure it. To get to this point, it is important that we learn more about cancer and how we can defeat it. We can begin by uncovering some cancer myths:
Myth: Cancer treatment kills more than it cures.
Fact: Cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are a tough road. The treatments are designed to kill cancer cells, and in the process, inevitably affect healthy cells. The internet claim that chemotherapy is “only 3% effective” is highly misleading. Chemotherapy cures 96 percent of testicular cancer, compared to fewer than 70 percent in the 1970s. The five-year relative survival rate for all cancers diagnosed between 2003 and 2009 is 68%, up from 49% from 1975-1977. There are some cancers, like pancreatic cancer, that spread to multiple sites in the body and are difficult to cure. The goal for these types of cancers is palliation. Palliation means controlling the disease and symptoms to improve quality of life and prolong survival. In the last decade, there have been breakthroughs using targeted therapies to treat cancer, which are different from chemotherapy. Just like no two thumbprints are same, no two cancers are the same. The targeted therapies are designed to interact specifically with cancer cells at the molecular level to block their growth. This is different than chemotherapy, which kills all dividing cells. Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), once a fatal leukemia, now has the possibility of remission because of targeted daily prescriptions like imatinib.
Myth: Undergoing cancer treatments means you can’t live at home, go to work or do the things you love.
Fact: Most people with cancer are treated on an outpatient basis in their home communities. At times, it may be helpful to travel to a specialty medical center for treatment. Often times, doctors at these medical centers can work with doctors in your hometown so that you can be with your family and friends, and perhaps resume work. Many new drugs are now available to help better control nausea. As a result, you're often able to work and stay active during your treatment and most people are able to maintain their quality of life.
Myth: Breast cancer always comes in the form of a lump.
Fact: A lump may indicate breast cancer or one of many benign breast conditions. There are concerning signs like skin thickening or dimpling, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction or a discharge other than breast milk. Breast cancer can also spread to underarm lymph nodes and cause swelling before the tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt. On the other hand, a mammogram may pick up breast cancer that has no outward symptoms at all.
Myth: If your mammography report is negative, there is no reason for concern.
Fact: Mammograms do not identify around 10 to 20% of breast cancers. This is why clinical breast exams and, to some extent, breast self-exams play an important role in the screening process. Take charge of your health by performing routine , establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, getting an annual and scheduling your routine screening mammograms. Nearly all experts agree that mammograms save lives.
Myth: Sun exposure is the best way to get vitamin D
Fact: Our skin can produce vitamin D with the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. However, after a limited amount of sun exposure, vitamin D production reaches its maximum (five minutes at noon for Caucasian skin). Excess ultraviolet (UV) exposure will actually break down vitamin D to an inactive compound and increases your risk of skin cancer and accelerated skin aging.
Myth: If I don’t smoke, I don’t have to worry about lung cancer.
Fact: Smoking contributes to most lung cancer cases; however, 15% of people who are diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. Ask your doctor about low dose CT screening if you are current or former smoker.
Myth: Age doesn’t matter when it comes to getting colorectal cancer.
Fact: About 90% of all colorectal cancers are found in people age 50 and older. If detected early (localized to site), five year survival is close to 90%. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends you start getting checked for this cancer when you are 50.
As a member of The James Cancer Network, Madison Health brings leading-edge oncology services to patients in London. Dr. Shabana Dewani, a board certified medical oncologist from The James, is currently caring for patients at Madison Health. For more information about oncology services at Madison Health, please call 740-845-7280.
National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov)
National Breast Cancer Foundation