Cancer is the one word that we all hope we never hear.
Yet half of all men and one-third of all women in the U.S. will develop cancer during their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society. Having cancer is like being in a club you never intentionally signed up for. Anyone of any age, sex and race can join the cancer club and more than one million new members will join this year alone. Although there are many card holding members of the cancer club, thanks to new research and technology, membership is dwindling.
Cancer is the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases. Although there are many kinds of cancer, all cancers start because abnormal cells grow out of control. Untreated cancers can cause serious illness and death.
Although there is no sure way to prevent most cancers, there are things you can do that might reduce your chances of getting it. Smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body and accounts for some 30 percent of all cancer deaths. Drinking alcohol is also linked to a higher risk of certain types of cancer. The combined use of alcohol and tobacco raises the risk of mouth, throat, voice box and esophagus cancer far more than the effects of either drinking or smoking alone. Having a healthy diet and avoiding over exposure to ultraviolent rays and sunlight have been shown to reduce the chance of getting some cancers.
“There are some cancers that can be found before symptoms occur. Established screening of breast, cervical and colon cancer may significantly help improve the long-term survival and treatment outcomes,” said Amaryllis Gil, M.D. with Elmhurst Memorial Hematology and Oncology Associates. “The most common methods for treating cancer include surgery, chemotherapy/targeted therapies and radiation therapy. In some cases two or more of these methods may be used to help destroy the cancerous cells and tumors within the body.”
As scientists continue to search for a cure to end cancer, technology continues to be developed in hopes of finding less invasive ways to treat the disease. Cancer research has been focusing on tumor biology and has lead to more highly effective targeted systemic therapies.
Other options for diagnosis and local control of certain cancers include navigational bronchoscopy, surgery and radiation therapy.
Cancer recovery can be a long and hard process that takes incredible strength and support, but it can also make one feel isolated and alone. One of the few benefits of being a member of the cancer club is the overwhelming amount of support that comes from having or knowing someone who had cancer.
There are many different types of support groups. Some mainly provide information and education (for example, what to expect with chemotherapy and tips on how to cope with treatment). Other groups focus on providing emotional support. Both types play a role in the recovery process.
Nobody wants to ever find out that they or someone they know has cancer, but thanks to innovative technology, research and a never ending network of support, there is hope that one day there will no longer be a cancer club.
Shauna Schuda wrote this column for Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare.