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Health > More Health StoriesSummer 2011 IS Magazine9/7/11 IS Online

Stop Cancer in its Tracks

Get screened early and often for cancer.

By Andrea Wright-Agustin

More than 6,500 people in Hawai‘i were diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and more than 2,000 died from the disease. Thousands more are likely to have cancer but don’t know it. Since there are often no symptoms or a guaranteed way to prevent or cure the disease, early detection is the best protection. When cancer is found in its early stages, treatment and recovery times are often much shorter. That’s why it’s so important to get screened regularly for cancer.

Below is a list of common cancers and recommended screenings. Talk to your primary care provider about the appropriate screenings for you.

Breast Cancer is the second most common cancer in women in Hawai‘i and the nation. About one in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer during their lives, approximately 210,000 each year. Seventy percent of these women have no known risk factors for it.

A mammogram is a breast X-ray that checks for cancer. Mammograms can detect cancer several years before any visible symptoms appear.

Women over age 40 should talk to their doctor and make an informed decision about whether mammography is right for them based on their family history and general health. After age 50, it is recommended that all women have a mammogram every two years.

Cervical Cancer often has no visible symptoms, but if it’s detected early, it is one of the easiest female cancers to treat.

A Pap test (smear), which is performed by swabbing the cervix, detects changes in the cells that may lead to cervical cancer. Since Pap tests were first introduced in the 1940s, cervical cancer death rates have declined by more than half.

Women should have a Pap test every one to three years starting at age 21 or within three years of the onset of sexual activity, depending on their doctor’s recommendation. Women should also have an annual pelvic exam starting at age 21 or once they are sexually active.

Colorectal Cancer is the second-leading cancer-killer in the nation, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). And because it often takes 10 to 15 years to develop, it’s also one of the easiest to detect. Women and men should have routine colorectal cancer screenings starting at age 50 or as recommended by their doctor.

There are three colorectal cancer screening methods. A fecal occult blood test checks for blood in the stool. It should be performed every year. During a flexible sigmoidoscopy, a doctor inserts a short, thin, lighted tube into the rectum to check for polyps or changes in the rectum and lower colon. It should be performed every five years. A colonoscopy is similar to a sigmoidoscopy, except a longer tube checks the entire colon. It’s typically performed every 10 years.

In addition to cancer screenings, it’s important to take care of yourself to help prevent cancer. Nearly two-thirds of all cancers are related to poor lifestyle habits, according to the ACS. To improve your chances of staying cancer-free, eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables and low in salt, maintain a normal weight, exercise often, limit sun exposure, and avoid tobacco products.

And if you have a close relative who has had cancer, such as a parent, sibling, or child, or if you have multiple relatives who have had cancer (including grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and grandchildren), you may be at higher risk for certain types of cancer. Make sure your primary care provider is aware of your family history.

No one wants to learn that they have cancer, but ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Early detection through preventive cancer screenings can help save lives. The sooner you stop cancer in its tracks, the better your chances of a full recovery.

Most cancer screenings are covered benefits of most HMSA health plans. If you are within the recommended age range, talk to your doctor about being screened.

Island Scene Online is not intended to replace the advice of health care professionals. Please consult your physician for your personal needs and before making any changes in your lifestyle.
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