Archive For "April, 2013"

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Cancer Demystified

Radiation Oncologist at Fort Smith Radiation OncologyI’ve heard the government has decreased funding for cancer research.  What will cancer researchers do? Where will the money come from to find a cure for cancer?

Back in 1946 no funding for cancer research, federal or otherwise, was available.  Mary Lasker, an American health activist and philanthropist, was the first person to address this problem and to see research funding as the best way to promote public health. The American Cancer Society Research Program was “born” because of Ms. Lasker’s fundraising.

Things we take for granted–things that we assume have always been there–are present only because of the American Cancer Society (ACS). The extensive list of medical advancements made possible through the ACS is impressive. Since 1946, the ACS has funded 46 scientists who went on to win the Nobel Prize.   The pap test for cervical cancer, chemotherapy for childhood leukemia, the double helix of our genetic material, the link between smoking and cancer, the link between sex hormones and breast and prostate cancer, the idea of combining multiple chemotherapy drugs, and the discovery of growth factors have all been discovered by funded researchers of the American Cancer Society.  All of these that we take for granted were funded by money raised by volunteers, and all before 1960.

Since the 1960’s, the ACS has continued to be responsible for significant health tools. For example, the ACS can be thanked for the $1 million invested in the 1970’s to demonstrate that the mammogram was the best tool to detect breast cancer early.  In 1974, an ACS funded scientist discovered that the drug Tamoxifen could prevent breast cancer.  By 1981, ACS funded scientists had discovered the technique to sequence DNA, and they developed the PSA (prostate specific antigen) test for prostate screening.

What is the source for the funding of these important past and potential future medical advancements? The American Cancer Society has one staff member for every 400 volunteers.  Who are these volunteers? They are you and I.  Every year around the world volunteers raise money by participating in Relay For Life.  Relay For Life is an organized, overnight community fundraising walk where teams of people camp out around a track with members of each team taking turns walking around the track to symbolize the journey cancer patients take.  In addition to raising money for continued research, Relay For Life benefits our local cancer patients by providing gas vouchers for treatment, hosting “look good feel better” programs, and providing trained cancer information specialists who can answer questions 24 hours a day, every day of the year at 1-800-227-2345.

In summary, the American Cancer Society not only uses money raised to fund researchers that are working tirelessly to find a cure for cancer but also gives back at the local level through their programs.  The best way the community can help in this fight is to participate in their local Relay For life.  Because cancer never rest or sleeps, so neither do Relayers!

Posted In: Cancer Demystified by Dr. Kris Gast
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Dr. Kris Gast~ Ask the Pros

Radiation Oncologist at Fort Smith Radiation OncologyQ: What does a skin cancer look like and how common are they?

A: Skin cancer is the most common cancer we have…we don’t even keep official track of them like we do other cancers. Other cancers are registered and patients are tracked through SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program). The most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. There are at least 500,000 basal cell skin cancers and 150,000 squamous cell skin cancers every year. The number is also thought to be under reported and on the rise. Basal cell skin cancer can look like a pink bump on the skin and as it grows bigger it can get a scab that won’t heal. In the past, this cancer was called the “rat” cancer because left unattended it would grow to the point where it looked like a rat had eaten a hole in the person! Squamous cell skin cancer is often a dry, rough, darker area that can be itchy. These can also scab and not heal over time. Basal cell skin cancers tend to stay right where they are but squamous cell skin cancers can spread to distant sites. The rarer but scary melanoma is the skin cancer that is tracked and reported into the SEER data. It looks generally like a mole that has changed. So, if you have any skin changes make an appointment with your local dermatologist.

Posted In: Ask the Pros
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