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Are The Symptoms You're Feeling Early Signs Of Cancer?

Reading the signs: Are the symptoms you’re feeling early signs of cancer? Why women ignore the signs, and what they may mean.


While women are busy caring for their children, their clients or both, there’s one important individual they tend to neglect — themselves. More frequently than not, women don’t make their own health a priority, ignoring symptoms that could be early signs of cancer.

“Women frequently ignore symptoms because they are simply busy,” says Dr. Daniel Maki, M.D., director of breast imaging at Scottsdale Medical Imaging (SMIL). “They are head of the household, often responsible for so many others that they put their own health on the back burner.”

What’s worse is some women believe the symptoms will just go away, so they ignore or deny the symptoms, according to Dr. Clayton Palowy, M.D., medical oncologist with Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers in Chandler.

“It’s human nature to ignore symptoms because you don’t want to view the worst, and you start rationalizing them as natural causes,” says Dr. Mike Janicek, M.D., medical director of the Cancer Genetic Risk Assessment Program at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare Medical Center. “I would say it’s the slowness of some of the symptoms that may sneak under the radar and makes it difficult for women to pay attention to symptoms, when in retrospect, it’s clear to them.”

Many symptoms such as bloating, irregular vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain seem typical, but, in reality, these and a few common symptoms that could be signs of various types of cancers.

Breast cancer

The stats:

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women and is the second-leading cause of cancer death among women, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the U.S. in 2012, it was estimated by the National Cancer Institute that there were nearly 227,000 new cases of breast cancer and more than 39,000 deaths.

The symptoms:

The most common complaint or symptom is a lump in the breast.

“Depending on what the lump (cancer) invades during its growth, it may cause a variety of different symptoms based on what it grows into,” says Dr. Maki.

“If the lump invades into the nipple or skin, it can begin causing retraction or dimpling,” he adds. “If the lump invades a blood vessel and milk duct, it can cause blood to be discharged from the nipple. If it invades nerve fibers, it can cause pain. If it invades the skin, it can cause thickening or change in texture of the skin itself.”

Other symptoms include:

  • Discharge from the nipple (particularly a bloody discharge)
  • Nipple inversion or retraction
  • Skin dimpling (along one edge of the breast) or retraction

“Sometimes patients even describe simply a ‘thickening’ of an area of the breast rather than a discrete lump,” says Dr. Maki.

Palowy says that breast changes such as a red breast is an early sign of inflammatory breast cancer and can be mistaken for infection.

Symptoms mistaken for:

Many of the symptoms are often attributed to cysts or one’s menstrual cycle, according to Maki. And in a large number of patients with lumps or pain, the assumption may often be correct.

“However, occasionally these symptoms do unfortunately represent early stages of breast cancer, and any new breast symptoms should always be brought to the attention of one’s doctor,” Dr. Maki says.

Prevention:

Mammograms and screenings are the best way to find breast cancer early. Also, be aware of your family history and risk factors. The National Cancer Institute has a Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool helps estimate a woman’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer. Visit cancer.gov/bcrisktool.

Cervical cancer

The stats:

All women are at risk for cervical (uterine cervix) cancer, which forms in the tissue of the cervix (the organ connecting the uterus and vagina) and is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. However, it occurs more often in women over the age of 30.

In the U.S. in 2012, the National Cancer Institute estimated more than 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer and more than 4,000 deaths.

The symptoms:

  • Bleeding with intercourse: This is often mistaken for “just too much friction,” according to Dr. Deborah Wilson, M.D., of Scottsdale.
  • Bleeding after intercourse: Mistaken for the start of one’s period.
  • Irregular or heavy vaginal bleeding pre-menopausal: Mistaken for an abnormal period and could also be a symptom of uterine cancer.
  • Bleeding after menopause: Mistaken for an unexpected period and could also be a symptom of uterine cancer.

Prevention:

Two tests can help prevent or find cervical cancer early: a Pap test (or a pap smear) and the HPV test.

Ovarian cancer

The stats:

Ovarian cancer forms in the tissues of the ovary, with most ovarian cancers either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).

The National Cancer Institute estimates that there were more than 22,000 new cases of cervical cancer and more than 15,000 deaths in 2012 in the United States.

The symptoms:

  • Bloating: Mistaken for gas pain.
  • Pelvic pain: Mistaken for indigestion.
  • Early satiety
  • Chronic indigestion: Mistaken for food intolerance.

Prevention:

As with breast cancer, know your family history and inherited risk and changes, such as changes in the breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. However, according to the CDC, most breast and ovarian cancers are primarily due to aging, the environment and lifestyle.

“Ovarian cancer has no screening test, so that’s the one that most people focus on the symptoms,” says Janicek. “By the time you get bloating and some of the other symptoms, it’s often in its advanced stages.”

Know your history

The No. 1 symptom to consider? Family history, according Janicek.

“Family history is an unusual but very important symptom,” says Janicek. “And it’s not just for breast, but for ovarian and lynch syndrome. People don’t think of family history as a symptom, but it is. If you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you may be at genetic risk for cancer.”

Compile your family’s health history, and go as far back as three generations. Janicek says to let other family members know when another family member gets cancer. Not only will you and your family be informed, but it will also help the doctor look for any patterns of disease in the family.

Visit My Family Health Portrait’s website at familyhistory.hhs.gov to help collect and track your family health history.

Collect the following information about both your mother’s and father’s sides of the family:

  • Number of close relatives with breast or ovarian cancer: mother, sister(s), daughter(s), grandmothers, aunt(s), niece(s), and granddaughter(s)
  • Ages when the cancers were diagnosed
  • Whether anyone had cancer of both breasts
  • Breast cancer in male relatives
  • Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry

For more information about cancer treatment and prevention, visit:

Scottsdale Medical Imaging
Scottsdale Medical Center
3501 N. Scottsdale Rd., #130, Scottsdale
(480) 425-5081
esmil.com

Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers
695 S. Dobson Rd., Chandler
(480) 821-2838
ironwoodcrc.com

Scottsdale Healthcare Medical Center
Scottsdale Gynecologic Oncology
10197 N. 92nd St., #101, Scottsdale
(480) 993-2950
arizonaoncology.com

Deborah Wilson, M.D., Gynecology
8997 E. Desert Cove,  #105, Scottsdale
(480) 860-4791
drwilsonobgyn.com

Scottsdale Living Magazine Winter 2013

Health Resolutions to Make Before the New Year

Health Resolutions To Make Before The New Year

Each year, we spend New Year’s Day resolving to improve mind, body and spirit.

However, in most cases, those resolutions are often broken, forgotten and shelved for yet another year before the holiday lights even come down.

So, this year, why not get a head’s start on make better choices before the New Year arrives?

Below are some helpful tips from Valley health leaders on how to get a jump start while the holidays are still in full swing:

Decrease Risk of Silent Nights

“Resolve to make your ears a part of your yearly physical exam,” says Sherri Collins, executive director of Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. “General practitioners will check your eyes, heart and blood pressure, but they do not normally perform hearing tests. This could prevent furthering any existing hearing loss.”

She adds to also turn down excess noise this holiday season and beyond. According to Collins, 15 percent of individuals aged 20-69 have some degree of hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to loud noises.

Increase Talk Time

“The holidays are the perfect time to create healthy communication in your family by talking regularly with your kids about finals, school recess plans, social life, goals and peer-pressure,” says Leslie Bloom of DrugFreeAz.org. “Children who regularly talk with their parents are 50 percent less likely to use drugs. A great place to start that conversation is around the dinner table together.”

Also, while stocking the cabinets for guests this holiday season, take some time to unstock what you no longer need.

“Use the excuse of holiday guests to go through your medicine cabinet and clear out any unused or expired medicines,” Bloom says. “Check out DrugFreeAz.org/Rx for the best ways to dispose of those unused or expired medicines.”

Decrease Sweets for Your Sweets

In a recent report, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, an Emmy-award winning chief medical correspondent for the Health, Medical & Wellness unit at CNN, reported that according to estimates, nearly 20 percent of the total calories in American diets comes from added sugar via soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, desserts, fruit drinks, ice cream and other candies.

But that is just the beginning.

“Most people don’t realize that diets rich in sugar not only lead to increased risk of diabetes, but also to heart disease and cancer,” says Dr. Coral Quiet of Arizona Breast Cancer Specialists. “Breast and colon cancers have insulin receptors that encourage tumor growth.”

A best bet to optimize health — fight the sugar bug during the holidays.

Increase Pillow Talk

“There will be more than 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed this year in the United States alone, making it the third most common cancer in women,” says Dr. Rhianna Meadows of Planned Parenthood Arizona. “The No. 1 risk factor in developing cervical cancer — the human papilloma virus, or HPV.”

With this disease — and most other STDs — easily confused with common ailments in early stages, the only defense is a good offense. The offense: communication.

According to Dr. Meadows, some questions to get started:

  • Have you ever been tested for any STDs? If so, which ones?
  • Are you involved with anyone else, or when was your last sexual activity?
  • I believe in safe sex and condom use, do you?

Decrease the Summer Glow

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 31,000 Arizona residents are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. And not all of them have the hot summer sun to blame.

“This is Arizona — not the Jersey Shore,” says Dr. Gregory Maggass of Arizona Center for Cancer Care. “Simply put, do not step foot in a tanning bed to keep your summer glow this holiday season.”

Each of these early resolutions will make for a very happy — and healthy — New Year, indeed.

For more information on all these and other health resolutions to make, please visit any of the below:

acdhh.org
drugfreeaz.org
breastmd.com
ppaz.org
canceraz.com

The FYI on PAP Testing

The FYI On PAP Testing To Fight Against HPV, Cervical Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be more than 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed this year in the United States alone, making it the third most common cancer in women. The disease forms slowly, but has very few symptoms in early stages.

The No. 1 risk factor in developing cervical cancer — the human papilloma virus, or HPV.

This virus, which can also cause genital warts, comes in more than 100 different strains of varying degree. About 40 of these strains can affect the genital area, potentially leading to cervical cancer.

The bad news?

Genital HPV infection is very common among sexually active people. It is so common, in fact, that some estimate that half of all men and three quarters of all women have been infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime.

The good news?

Most HPV infections will go away on their own without treatment within one to two years. However, some will continue to “hide” in the body for many years before they cause problems. This makes it nearly impossible to determine when patients became infected with the disease, how long they’ve had it and who gave it to them.

Thankfully, women have two powerful tools in the fight against HPV and cervical cancer — PAP tests and vaccination.

PAP Tests

All women should have PAP testing done to detect early precancerous changes on the cervix.

A PAP test, which is not painful to the patient, is done by a clinician inserting a metal or plastic speculum into the vagina, which is opened slowly to allow the clinician to visualize the cervix — the opening to the uterus. The clinician then uses a small brush and/or spatula to gently collect cells from the cervix. The cells are then sent to the laboratory to be tested for abnormalities. The lab test does not test for HPV itself, but rather looks for cellular changes that may be caused by HPV.

In the United States alone, the death rate from cervical cancer declined by 70 percent between 1955 and 1992 because of the initiation of the PAP test. The current recommendation for PAP testing is that it begins at the age of 21, regardless of when women first started having sexual intercourse. PAP testing prior to the age of 21 often will lead to continued unnecessary testing or procedures.

HPV Vaccine

Many women ask what they can do to protect themselves against HPV infection and cervical cancer. If one is between the ages of nine and 26, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a vaccination against certain strains of HPV that are more likely to cause genital warts and cervical cancer. This vaccination is given in a series of three injections over a six-month period.

Other ways to reduce one’s risk include:

  • Practicing abstinence
  • Having only one sexual partner who has no other intimate partners
  • Having sexual contact that does not involve anal or vaginal intercourse
  • Using condoms every time

Be sure to contact your healthcare provider, public health department or local Planned Parenthood health center for more information about cervical cancer and the importance of a proactive screening strategy and PAP testing.