Fort Smith Radiation Oncology, P.A.

Kris L. Gast, M.D.
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Lung Cancer Screening- July 2015 Cancer Demystified

Why is lung cancer still such a deadly disease? First, let’s start with reviewing the facts. Lung cancer is the third most common cancer and the number one cancer killer with 90% of patients diagnosed succumbing to their disease.  The five-year survival rate for all patients with lung cancer is 17 percent, a statistic that has not changed significantly in decades.  According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer kills more Americans every year than the next three most common cancers (breast, colon and prostate) combined.

The two most important risk factors for lung cancer are tobacco use (smoking) and age. People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. In fact, over 85% of patients diagnosed with lung cancer have smoked. Unfortunately, in the United States, 37% of adults are current or former smokers. Regarding age as a factor, the majority of lung cancers are diagnosed in people over the age of 55.

How do we advance from these statistics?  Better early detection is the key. Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made recommendations on using low dose CT scans to screen for lung cancer. Results of this study show that a certain population can greatly benefit from the low dose CT scan.  It suggested screening be offered to people between the ages of 55 and 80 who are active smokers or who have smoked within the past 15 years. Once individuals have stopped smoking for over 15 years, the low dose CT scan is not recommended for use. It also advised that the screening should be done yearly on people who have a 30 pack year history. (A 30 pack history means that this person has smoked 1 pack a day for 30 years, or 2 packs a day for 15 years, and so on.) The hope is that this screening will detect more early stage cancers and decrease deaths from lung cancer. Thanks to these high-level recommendations from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, this type of lung cancer screening is also approved for coverage by Medicare.

However, it must be said, the option of lung cancer screenings is not a substitute for the need of smokers to quit smoking now. Quitting smoking at any age can greatly reduce the risk of developing lung cancer.

For more information and to read the full report from the U.S. Preventative Service Tasks Force, visit the website www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org. Also, please discuss with your doctor to see if this type of screening is an option.

Posted In: Cancer Demystified by Dr. Kris Gast
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Stress and Illness- June 2015 Cancer Demystified

The correlation between stress and well-being appears to be related.  Certainly true is that for many people, increased stress levels go hand-in-hand with becoming ill.  Well known is that a shock or prolonged stress has a huge impact on the immune system. A major stressor such as the death of a spouse or family member, marriage, divorce, financial troubles, or a cancer diagnosis all would definitely increase stress levels.

Responding to stress is a normal physiological process, known as the fight or flight response.  This response occurs rapidly without thought whenever “danger” is sensed.  The changes in hormone levels during this time increase blood pressure and heart rate so that a response to the “danger” by fight or flight happens.   

Several studies have tried to link life’s major stressors with illness.  Unfortunately, how each individual person handles stress is impossible to evaluate.  However, one published long-term study of breast cancer patients did show that reducing stress during the treatment process can improve survival rates.

Regardless of the lack of evaluation, common sense indicates that reducing stress is obviously extremely important.  For the cancer patient, choosing a trusted physician, who has a friendly staff and provides a calm, relaxing atmosphere for treatments is of utmost importance. Another integral part of reducing stress is having a supportive family.  Even massage therapy can be extremely beneficial at helping a patient relax.

First and foremost, patients must take care of themselves.  Employing actions to reduce stress as much as possible will definitely be of benefit to cancer patients.

Posted In: Cancer Demystified by Dr. Kris Gast
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Melanoma Awareness- May 2015 Cancer Demystified

Every year in the United States, 80,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer resulting in 13,000 estimated deaths yearly.  Melanoma is a particular type of skin cancer that begins in the pigment cells of your skin and can develop in anyone, regardless of skin color. 

The most important warning sign for melanoma is any change in size, shape, or color of a mole. Melanoma can grow anywhere on the body. It most often occurs on the upper back in men and women and on the legs in women. Less often, it can grow in other places, such as on the soles of feet and palms of hands.

Melanoma and other skin cancers result from damage to the skin cells, most often by UV radiation found in sunlight and tanning beds.  Some risk factors for melanoma include:

  1. Fair skin that sunburns easily, along with blonde or red hair, freckles, and fair colored eyes.
  2. History of blistering sunburns.
  3. Excessive exposure to the sun.
  4. Moles.
  5. Weak immune system, such as transplant patients and patients with HIV/AIDS.
  6. Family history of skin cancer

There are several ways to protect yourself from the sun such as avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest, wear sunscreen year around, wear protective clothing, avoid tanning beds, and check your skin monthly for any changes.

Please remember, a tan is your skin’s response to injury.  It is not a sign of good health. Therefore, be bold and embrace your pale!

Posted In: Cancer Demystified by Dr. Kris Gast
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