By Peggy Chapman
Northwest Asian Weekly
The announcement of cancer is devastating, and many patients are baffled by the circumstances, leading to the question:
“How long has this been going on?”
This is one of the most common questions that Song Zhao, MD, is first asked when he meets new patients that realize that they are dealing with advanced stages of cancer.
Prevention and detection
Dr. Zhao is an oncologist at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle. The patients that Dr. Zhao works with have already passed the point where the rules of prevention are a factor, which is why Dr. Zhao stresses the importance of screening and why it is imperative.
*Early detection is equally important as prevention.*
What does this mean?
While you may be feeling like you are doing everything right to prevent cancer (proper diet, exercise, avoiding alcohol, NO SMOKING—read on), it is equally important to have for early detection as recommended by guidelines, which you need to discuss with your primary care physicians. Genetics and any family history of cancer, may have a role that you can’t control.
It doesn’t mean you should ignore the general recommendations for prevention.
- If you smoke, QUIT, . Approximately 90 percent of lung cancer cases are related to smoking.
- Stay physically active. Exercising regularly reduces risk of many types of cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit alcohol. Even moderate consumption of alcohol may increase risk of certain types of cancer, especially oral, esophageal, and liver cancer.
- Focus on a healthy diet. Zhao says there is no particular “miracle” food that can help, but rather there should be a conscious effort to maintain a balanced diet.
- Apsirin has been shown to reduce risk of several types of cancer, especially colon cancer and rectal cancer. The recommended dose is 81mg once daily, taken with food. Patients should consult their primary care physicians if it is safe to take aspirin which may increase risk of bleeding.
Most imperative are the screenings. General guidelines for women include getting mammograms to detect breast cancer (40+) and if you are sexually active, you should get a regular pap smear (cervical cancer). HPV vaccination is recommended for young girls before they become sexually active. If you are a long-time smoker, you need to ask your doctor about lung cancer screening by CT scan. Colonoscopy is recommended for anyone at age of 50 or older.
There are not screening options as readily available for other forms of cancer (kidney, bladder, brain, pancreas), but the patient should actively screen, especially if there is a genetic history.
Beyond prevention and detection
Unfortunately, most patients contact a physician only after they experience pain. (Again, this is why active screening for early detection can alleviate the question of “how long has this been going on?”)
Dr. Zhao works with those who have progressed into advanced stages and where the prevention stage is far back on the timeline. Once diagnosed, Zhao warned about a natural tendency to go into “panic mode,” where many patients will resort to searching for any hope, “wasting time and money because they are panicking.” Instead of the panic-search, he suggests turning to credible sources for information, which include:
The National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov)
The American Cancer Society (cancer.org)
The Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.org)
Once a patient has been diagnosed, Dr. Zhao feels there should be considerable evaluation regarding the patient’s wants versus treatments offered. The patient should weigh all options, including palliative care, which focuses on maintaining quality of life, and treatments immediately offered.
Most important, however, is sustaining the network of support, whether it’s family, friends, or the doctor.
“It’s important to stay mentally strong,” Zhao said. “It never gets easy.”
Peggy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.