Archive For "February, 2014"

Q and A with Dr. Kris Gast

Q: What are side effects of radiation treatment to the brain?

A: Being nerve tissue, the brain takes a long time to show changes and to heal.  Common side effects of radiation to the brain can be hair loss, skin redness, itching and fatigue. Also, some patients will experience short-term memory loss a year or two after treatment.  Another side effect can be somnolence syndrome, a condition causing drowsiness during the day or a need to sleep for longer than normal at night.  This effect usually occurs one to two months after treatment and resolves fairly quickly.


Q: The World Health Organization just announced that the rate of cancer is going to double by 2024! Why are the numbers going up?

A: The incidences of cancer cases are expected to rise for a number of different reasons.  In countries like the United States, the population is not only aging but also living longer.  Moreover, nearly 20% of our population still uses tobacco products, a major cause of cancer.  In developing countries, smoking rates are even higher.  The report also states that developing countries are reflected most in this new data, because of their population growth, longer lifespans, and susceptibility to cancers associated with industrialized lifestyles. Good news from the report is that over half of all cancers are preventable.



Q: I have multiple family members with cancer.  Is there some type of test I could take to see if I have cancer?

A: Sadly, no magic test can diagnose cancer.  However, a number of different blood tests can help in the diagnosis of cancer based on a patient’s symptoms. Doctors can check tumor markers, substances found in the blood, urine, other bodily fluids, or tissues of some patients with cancer. Tumor markers may be used to help diagnose cancer, but limitations to their use exist. Some noncancerous conditions may cause the levels of certain tumor markers to increase. Another possible consideration is genetic testing for those having a strong family history of breast cancer.  This test could identify a marked increase risk of developing breast cancer.  However, it will not identify any current cancer.  The best advice to decrease the risk of developing cancer is to refrain from use of tobacco products, maintain a healthy weight, exercise, and visit a physician regularly.

Q: What are the cancer rates for Arkansas?

A: The Arkansas Cancer Registry keeps records on the number of cancer cases reported every year.  The website links to the Arkansas Cancer Registry reports with solid data posted for years 2008-2010. The following statistics are key findings:

  1. Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in Arkansas and in the United States.
  2. Cancer is expected to surpass heart disease as the number one cause of death worldwide.
  3. Every year nearly 15,000 Arkansans are diagnosed with cancer and 7000 die of the disease.
  4. The mortality rates from cancer in Arkansas are above the national level.
  5. Lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer deaths in Arkansans.

Breast and prostate cancer are the most diagnosed cancers in Arkansans



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Q and A with Dr. Kris Gast

Q: My father had prostate cancer and later developed bone cancer.  How common is bone cancer?

A: Primary bone cancer is, in fact, quite rare.  Without reviewing your father’s medical records, I will assume that he actually had prostate cancer that spread to his bones, called metastasis.  For nearly half of the patients in the United States who die of cancer, their disease had spread to their bones.  Most frequently, the cancers that tend to spread to the bones are breast, lung, and prostate cancer.  Bone metastasis can result in bone pain and even fractures. With today’s technology bone metastasis can be treated with drug therapy, which can help stabilize the bones and hopefully delay the pain or fractures. Radiation therapy is also an excellent tool to use to help eliminate the pain caused by the bone metastasis.


Q: Why do people not like to go to the doctor?

A: In the medical world we call this reluctance to see a physician the “white coat syndrome.” Many people develop great anxiety at the thought of visiting their doctors. Why? One reason may be that they are afraid of what the doctor might find.  On the other hand, some people have the attitude of “If it’s not broken, why fix it?” Another unfortunate reason is that many patients today have financial issues that may prohibit them from routinely visiting their doctors. Whatever the reason, just remember your doctor is there to help you take better care of yourself and live a healthy life.  Since often health issues can be avoided with preventative care, a visit with your physician before a major health problem occurs is definitely beneficial.


Q: Can a biopsy of a cancer cause the cancer cells to spread?

A: Cancer is almost always diagnosed by a biopsy, a surgical procedure that removes tissue samples from tumors.  The biopsy specimen is then viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to determine the presence and type of cancer. A good biopsy specimen is absolutely critical to select the proper type of cancer treatment.

The worry that having a biopsy could, in fact, spread the cancer is a common concern for most patients. The short answer is no; a biopsy does not cause cancer to spread. Historically, the common perception is that when a biopsy is performed either by a needle or by surgery, the exposure of air to the tumor site could cause the cancer to spread.  This assumption is not true. A fear of “seed tracking”, spread (or seed) of the cancer along the line of the needle insertion and withdrawal, with needle biopsies is another concern.  However, this risk is theoretical, as it has never been proven in a strong, reliable, scientific cancer study.

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February 2014 Cancer Demystified~Cancer Fighting Foods

In my medical practice, I am often asked by patients, “What should I be eating to help avoid getting cancer?” While no single food or vitamin can protect you against cancer by itself, strong evidence exists that eating certain foods can lower your risk of getting cancer. These are my top ten foods:

  1. Wine, particularly red wine, has a high concentration of resveratrol, which is derived from the skin of grapes. Resveratrol is a natural plant compound that contains antioxidant and inflammatory properties.  Moderate drinking of red wine has also long been known to reduce the risk of heart disease.
  2. Vegetables from the cabbage or mustard families, such as broccoli, kale, and collards are also suggested.  The recommendation is that you not overcook the vegetables and chew them well as that seems to help release the cancer-fighting properties of the food.
  3. Drinking green tea, either hot or cold, has been found to slow cancer growth.
  4. Eating dark green vegetables such as spinach, which is packed with antioxidants, is helpful.
  5. Consuming beans and lentils can slow or prevent damage to DNA.
  6. Berries contain chemicals which can inhibit tumor growth. Try adding a variety of berries to your diet.
  7. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate containing 70% cacao, has a high level of antioxidants and appears to be a protection against heart disease and cancer.
  8. Foods containing vitamin D, such as eggs, mushrooms, catfish, salmon, sardines and mackerel, seem to interfere with cancer growth.  Taking a vitamin D supplement works as well.
  9. Adding ginger or turmeric to your food is advised, as lab tests have shown that these spices can slow cancer growth.
  10.  The vitamin B family, including folate, has been found to have cancer preventing propertiesSample foods that contain vitamin B are liver, almonds, potatoes, and whole grain breads.



Posted In: Cancer Demystified by Dr. Kris Gast
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