Monthly Archives: March 2012

Mom, Dad, Let’s Talk about Colon Cancer

By Durado Brooks, MD

 

How often do you think a family conversation about cancer occurs? The truth is, not nearly often enough.

Colorectal cancer (often called simply “colon cancer”) is cancer that develops in the colon or the rectum, and it’s the third most common cancer in the U.S.  While most people diagnosed with colon cancer do not have a family history the disease, people who have this cancer in their family have a significantly higher chance of being diagnosed.  The good news is that colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, and this prevention can work even for people who are at high risk of the disease. [more]

Colon cancer is preventable because it usually 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.  Cancer can be prevented by finding and removing these polyps with colon cancer screening tests during this transition period.   

People who have a history of colon cancer or polyps in a close family member (parent, sibling, or child) may have twice the risk of developing the disease compared to those with no family history.  This is especially true if cancer appears in the relative before age 60.  If there are multiple family members with colon cancer, the risk may be even higher. 

Polyp detection and removal is best accomplished by regular screening – recommended to start at age 50 for people at average risk for developing colon cancer.  However, screening recommendations may be quite different for those with an affected relative.… Continue reading →

Is a Pap test necessary every year?

By Debbie Saslow, PhD

When it comes to screening for cancer, a common belief held by doctors as well as patients is “more is better.” It seems only logical that more frequent screening with the newest technologies translates to more cancers detected at the earliest possible time and, ultimately, more lives saved.

Cervical cancer is an example of why this is not necessarily so. Dating back to the late 1940s, the Pap test has been detecting not only early cervical cancers, but changes in the cervix (“pre-cancers”) that when treated or removed lead to actual prevention of cancer in addition to early detection. For decades, the majority of women in this country have scheduled their doctor appointments around their “annual Pap.”  As a result of widespread Pap testing, mortality rates dropped by 70% and the Pap test became the biggest success story for cancer screening in history.

In the late 1980s, it was discovered that cervical cancer is caused by HPV, the human papilloma virus. Studies of the natural history of HPV and cervical cancer showed that it takes, on average, 10-20 years from the time a woman is first infected with HPV until the time a cervical cancer might appear.… Continue reading →

Viruses, Bacteria, and Cancer, or It’s Not All Smoke and Sunlight

By William C. Phelps, PhD

How did you feel the last time someone sneezed in the elevator? Whether it is the common cold or the seasonal flu, we know some illnesses are caused by infections with viruses or bacteria. But what if cancer could be caused by an infection?

Some cancers caused by viruses and bacteria

Although it is not widely realized, 15%-20% of cancers around the world are caused by infectious agents – viruses or bacteria. Fortunately for all of us, the infectious agents linked to cancer are not easily spread from person to person like the common cold virus. It turns out, even when many of these viruses and bacteria infect people, only a small subset will go on to develop cancer. In most cases, we still do not understand why certain people develop cancer and others do not – even though they were also infected. [more]

A number of different types of infections can cause cancer. The Epstein-Barr virus can cause lymphomas (cancers of the lymphatic system) and nasopharyngeal cancer. Kaposi sarcoma virus causes a form of skin cancer in patients with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but only after HIV has already damaged the patient’s immune system.… Continue reading →