Monday, June 24, 2013

Clearing Up Cancer Myths

     Everyone knows someone who has been touched by cancer. It’s a disease feared by many and understood by few. While no one is ever prepared to receive a cancer diagnosis, knowledge is power. Medical oncologist Michael McCormack, M.D., of TriState Physician Associates, reveals the fact and fiction behind cancer.

Myth: If you have a family history of cancer, you will get it too.
A tendency to develop cancer can run in families and may increase your risk of developing the disease, however Dr. McCormack puts the risk into perspective.

“The vast majority of cancers are not hereditary and those that are inherited have treatment and screening strategies that can successfully prevent cancer deaths.”

Sound advice: Talk to your primary care physician about your family medical history, especially if you have a family member diagnosed with cancer before age 50—and stay vigilant about regular cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies.

Myth: The number of people diagnosed with cancer and dying from the disease is increasing.

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer deaths in the U.S. have dropped 20 percent from 1991 to 2009. Less smoking contributes to the decline in lung cancer and early detection improves the odds for people diagnosed with colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. More people with cancer now live longer and can expect a better quality of life due to early diagnosis, improved treatment options and lifestyle changes.

Myth: I’ve been smoking for so long, there’s no point in kicking the habit.

Kicking a cigarette addiction at any age can significantly reduce your risk of dying prematurely. Studies show that senior smokers are 83 percent more likely to die at any given age compared to non-smokers, but those who quit the habit slash their risk to 34 percent.

Myth: Nutritional supplements like vitamins A and D and fish oil prevent cancer.

While some supplements are effective in treating some medical conditions, the benefits of others are not scientifically proven when it comes to cancer. Drug interactions pose one the biggest concerns with supplements, so talk to your doctor before taking supplements especially if you’re taking prescription medications.

Sound advice: get the nutrients your body needs from daily servings of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

Myth: A cancer diagnosis is a death sentence.

Advances in cancer detection and treatment have increased survival rates for most common cancers. Not only are cancer patients surviving, they’re living a longer and better life due to less invasive surgeries and improved chemotherapy treatments.

Myth: Cancer is always painful.

People associate cancer with pain, but not everyone with cancer experiences cancer pain. “Many cancers are not painful at all,” says Dr. McCormack. For people who do have pain, medications and other pain management techniques help control the pain.

Myth: Undergoing cancer treatment places your life on hold. 

Most people with cancer are treated on an outpatient basis and in their home community. Even if you seek a specialist outside of your hometown, these physicians can work with doctors in your community.

     Whether you are going through treatment or have successfully completed it, Dr. McCormack encourages normalcy. “Maintaining a normal lifestyle while on treatment is not only encouraged, but therapeutic,” says Dr. McCormack.

     Instead of fearing cancer, get smart about it. Go to your primary care physician if your health changes, and be proactive about cancer screenings like mammography, colonoscopies and skin exams. Finally, do everything in your power to lead a healthy lifestyle—that means throwing away the cigarettes, eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising on a regular basis and drinking less alcohol. This alone, improves your chances of dying from cancer or any other serious disease.

By: Anne Gill

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