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 www.healthyarkansas.gov links to the Arkansas Cancer Registry reports with solid data posted for years 2008-2010. The following statistics are key findings:
Breast and prostate cancer are the most diagnosed cancers in Arkansans
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.
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: