Monthly Archives: September 2011

Get Past the Yuck to Help Save Lives

By Durado Brooks, MD

Has your doctor ever talked to you about collecting part of your bowel movement to be examined (referred to as a “stool test”)?  If you’re anything like the patients I’ve treated, you recoiled in shock and horror!  The idea just sounds disgusting, doesn’t it?  Without getting too technical, stool tests have what we doctors call a high YUCK factor. (No, it’s not an acronym; it’s what patients say when we ask them to do the test: “Are you kidding, doc?  Yuck!”) 

But stool tests are one of the tried and true approaches to finding colorectal (colon) cancer early and saving lives.  There are a number of different tests for colon cancer that are recommended by the American Cancer Society and other organizations, including colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and CT colonography (a special type of x-ray test, sometimes called “virtual colonoscopy”).  But the fact is, out of all the tests that are recommended for colon cancer screening, stool tests actually have the strongest evidence that they save lives – a fact that most patients (and many doctors) don’t appreciate.  [more]

How the FOBT Works

There are different types of stool tests, but the ones that have been around for the longest time and have the best scientific evidence work by finding microscopic amounts of blood in the stool.  These tests are known as Fecal (another word for “stool”) Occult Blood (which means “hidden blood”) Tests, commonly abbreviated as FOBTs

|As you may know, most colon cancer starts as a non-cancerous growth called a polyp.  Not all polyps will progress to cancer, but for those that do, the transformation usually takes a number of years.  Many cancers (and some polyps) bleed, but the amount of bleeding in most cases is small, and when mixed with the stool becomes invisible to the naked eye.  To check for this blood, patients must collect a small sample from one or more bowel movements (depending on the brand of test used).  This sample is then sent or taken to a lab or to the doctor’s office where it is exposed to a chemical reaction that indicates whether blood is present. 

What Happens After the FOBT

When blood is found in a stool sample it is referred to as a “positive FOBT.”  Fortunately, most patients with a positive FOBT do not have cancer.… Continue reading →

What to Say When Someone Has Cancer

By Greta Greer, MSW, LCSW

Nearly 12 million people living in the United States today were diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives; some are undergoing active treatment and others are living cancer free. Most of us know at least one person with cancer, but how confident are you in your ability to communicate well with someone who has recently been diagnosed or is in treatment for cancer?

Feeling insecure about how to communicate well with a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker who is facing cancer is quite common. If I only had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “I don’t know what to say!”  And it’s especially confusing if you heard about the diagnosis “through the grapevine.”

Communication is challenging even in the best of circumstances. So when cancer enters the picture, lots of deep emotions and concerns take it to a new level. It raises the stakes in terms of how it can affect your relationship. Saying or doing the “wrong” thing takes on added significance to your partner, family member, or friend when they have cancer. What you don’t say or do is equally important. [more]

Read on for some suggestions for talking to a friend or loved one who has cancer.… Continue reading →

Beating Lunchbox Boredom the Healthy Way

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

I read a recent study from a group of Harvard researchers who wanted to determine what foods and/or beverages are most likely to cause that slow and steady weight gain that many of us see over time as we get older – those things we eat or drink that may contribute to the number on our scale inching up ever so slightly year after year.

Interestingly enough, what topped the list were potato chips, potatoes (especially french fries), sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats (think hot dogs).  And that got me thinking about my kids and what they eat at school. [more]

A Front in the War on Childhood Obesity

The nutritional quality of foods and beverages in schools has been a hot debate for quite some time, largely driven by trends in childhood obesity in this country. About 17% of US kids today are obese.

While kids eat plenty of foods outside of school, the foods and beverages available at schools are an important consideration because of the time our kids spend in school.  It’s been estimated that for some children, 50% of the calories they eat in a day are from school meals.

It’s been exciting to see innovative, kid-approved initiatives that are helping to reduce the calories, sugar, sodium, and fat in school meals – initiatives that are bringing salad bars to schools and getting local chefs to work with students to create new and healthier menu options that taste great, for example.… Continue reading →

Ovarian Cancer: Do Screening Tests Work?

By Debbie Saslow, PhD

For years, patients, doctors, and researchers have been trying to find a way to catch ovarian cancer early, when it’s most treatable. For women, the chance of getting ovarian cancer is about 1 in 70.  In most cases, the cancer is found at an advanced stage and survival is, sadly, quite low.

Most women get tested regularly for breast cancer and cervical cancer, and hopefully colorectal (colon) cancer. Why aren’t they checked for ovarian cancer, too?  Unfortunately we don’t have tests like mammograms or Pap tests for the ovaries. Doctors often do a pelvic exam, which includes checking the ovaries, but this exam rarely finds ovarian tumors unless they have grown very large.

Some other tests, like the CA-125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound, have been studied to see if they can be used to test for ovarian cancer, but none have proven to be accurate enough to consistently find cancer. [more]

The CA-125 test measures a protein that can be found in the blood of many women with ovarian cancer. However, other conditions, including but not limited to normal ovulation, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, can also raise CA-125 levels in the blood, and some women with ovarian cancer may still have normal CA-125 levels.… Continue reading →