Understanding Cancer Clusters

Getting ahead of cancer and helping people lower their risks of developing various forms of this disease sometimes requires identifying carcinogenic conditions in the environment. While genetics, family history and lifestyle choices may all play a role in the development of some types of cancer, the cause sometimes comes from a different source. Chemicals and other toxins in the environment may sometimes be to blame. When that’s suspected to be the case, researchers delve into the possibility that a “cancer cluster” has formed. This type of investigation helps them better understand abnormally high incidence rates of cancer while potentially enabling them to find the environmental source of the cancer.

Cancer clusters are technically nothing more than a greater number of cancer cases within a specific population, generally determined by geography. Cancer clusters are often suspected when multiple people are diagnosed with the same type or related types of cancer from within the same neighborhood, workplace or family.

Identifying cancer clusters is vital for helping scientists uncover the possible root cause of the rise of cancer incidents. Chemicals in the workplace, for example, may be identified as carcinogens or other environmental causes found and eliminated during the study of suspected cancer clusters.

Cancer clusters are somewhat rare, but suspicious are typically reported to state and local health departments. These agencies can also help people find out if a suspected cancer cluster is under investigation. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may also work with state authorities to investigate suspected cancer clusters.

Definitively identifying cancer clusters is a long and tedious process. Even so, reporting suspicions is critical for helping kick off investigations that might shed light on the carcinogenic source should an actual cluster be found.

To learn more about cancer clusters, people can check in with their state health departments or the CDC online. Personal healthcare providers may also be able to offer information about cancer clusters or suspected cancer clusters within a specific geographical region.


Lung Cancer May Present Differently Based on Smoking Status: Study

As lung cancer continues to rank among the most common forms of the disease in the United States, researchers are still unlocking its mysteries. One of the latest findings points to fairly significant differences in how non-small-cell lung cancer presents in nonsmokers versus smokers. The findings show marked differences in survival rates and associated conditions.

The research centered on a study of 1,411 Portuguese patients who had non-small-cell lung cancer. The findings indicated that nonsmokers were more likely than smokers to be women and to also have adenocarcinoma. Nonsmokers, however, were less likely than their smoking counterparts to also have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and previous cancers, such as cancer of the larynx.

One of the most interesting findings involved survival rates. Nonsmokers, as it was found, tended to live about twice as long as their smoking counterparts after diagnosis. The average survival time was 51 months for nonsmokers versus 25 months for smokers. It was noted that many of the nonsmokers were diagnosed in advanced stages of the disease.

The findings, researchers say, are hoped to help improve diagnosis of this disease in smokers and nonsmokers alike. While lung cancer is much more common in smokers, the reality is nonsmokers can be affected. In the case of nonsmokers, researchers found work-related exposure to carcinogens, family history and previous cancers as possible links. About 18 percent of the nonsmoking patients also happened to have high blood pressure.

People who are at risk for lung cancer are urged to speak with their healthcare providers about screening options. Aside from tobacco use, risk factors do include environmental exposure and family history, among other factors. Early detection of lung cancer is critical for enabling effective treatment of this disease. Survival rates for this disease are low, but early intervention can improve the odds greatly.

Understanding Thyroid Cancer

With an estimated 62,000 new cases diagnosed annually in the United States, thyroid cancer is fast becoming a real concern. This disease, in fact, is one of the most rapidly increasing cancers in the country, according to the American Cancer Society. The good news is that thyroid cancer is generally very survivable. Only an estimated 1,950 people die from the disease each year.

While thyroid cancer is a growing concern not everyone understands this disease or what to expect from it. The thyroid is an endocrine gland found near the Adam’s apple. This gland is a control box of sorts for the body. It is responsible for controlling how fast the body uses energy, makes proteins and more. It is also the control for the body’s sensitivity to hormones.

When thyroid cancer strikes, treatment may depend a lot on the stage of cancer found. Some people may find a total thyroidectomy is recommended. This involves the complete removal of the gland. The good news is that it is entirely possible to live without a thyroid. The bad news is that life becomes somewhat of a balancing act afterwards. Daily pills to help control hormone levels in the body will become essential.

Managing thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels after a thyroidectomy can be a delicate process. TSH is known to help stimulate tumor growth, but the body does need it. If levels are too high, cancer can be promoted to grow. If they are maintained too low, the risk for other complications, such as osteoporosis in women, arises. With that in mind, doctors will work very carefully to provide oversight to ensure a proper balance is struck.

Thyroid cancer is a serious condition that does require intervention. The disease can be fatal if left unchecked. If it is a concern, be sure to discuss risk factors with a healthcare provider. Early signs may include a swelling in the neck, difficulty swallowing, trouble breathing and a cough that is not related to a cold.

Social Difficulties Not Common with Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancers affect both men and women and have a propensity to cut across all socioeconomic and ethic lines. Considered among the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer, there are about 130,000 new cases reported annually in the United States alone.

While all forms of cancer can create social ramifications for patients, colorectal cancers are often thought to be among the worst. With some patients requiring potentially embarrassing temporary or lifetime treatment involving the use of colostomy procedures, concerns have run high that this form of the disease may have a greater impact than others on patients’ psyches. Researchers, however, are finding out this is simply not the case.

To find out more, researchers at the Leeds Institute of Cancer and Pathology in the United Kingdom asked some 21,802 colorectal cancer patients about their social distress levels. They found that only about 15 percent of patients reported some degree of social distress with most saying they did not experience it at all.

While the findings were very encouraging, researchers do note that the 15 percent who reported back with difficulties could benefit from more targeted support in the days, weeks and months following diagnosis. Treatment for colorectal cancer, or any form of cancer for that matter, can take its toll on a person mind and body both. Having a strong social support system can prove vital for producing positive outcomes and can help patients better face treatment and the side effects that may go along with it.

People who are high risk for colorectal cancers are urged to discuss the topic with their healthcare providers. Early screening and removal of polyps can greatly reduce complications associated with this disease. Those who are at higher risk for this form of cancer are urged to undergo routine, regular screening procedures to keep this potentially fatal disease at bay.

Spicy Foods May Lead to Longer Lives

Love them or hate them, spicy foods may hold the key to avoiding a number of life-limiting conditions new research says. In fact, regular consumption has been shown to lower the risk of death from such serious conditions as ischemic heart disease, respiratory disease and even cancer.

The study focusing on the benefits of spicing up meals was conducted in China. It involved some 487,000 adults from all parts of the country. Participants were between the ages of 30 and 70 and were asked to complete questionnaires about their health and regular diets. Researchers were especially interested in finding out about vegetable, alcohol, red meat and spicy food consumption. To gain a better understanding of long-term patterns, participants were followed for an average of 7.2 years.

When all was said and done, researchers found those participants who ate spicy food three to seven days a week had a 14 percent decreased risk of death during the follow-up period than their counterparts who consumed items less than once a week. Eating spicy foods at least twice a week still showed some benefits. These people had a 10 percent lower chance of death than those who ate spicy only once a week or less.

The conditions researchers found spicy foods seem to stave off were many. They included heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases, among others. Women, as it turns out, seemed to enjoy greater preventative benefits, as well.

The benefits of spicy foods seem to link to the substance capsaicin, which is found in fresh chili peppers. This substance has been reported to have a number of health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antihypertensive properties.

The bottom line is that eating spicy might in fact be a good choice to make. While research is preliminary, those who like heating up their meals may find doing so is good for their health.

Teen Cancer Survivors May be at Risk for Cognitive Issues

Facing down the rigors of cancer and related treatments at any age is difficult at best. Doing so during the formative adolescent years may lead to cognitive problems down the road, a recent study has concluded.

To arrive at those findings, researchers behind the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study spoke with more than 6,000 survivors and their siblings. These individuals completed a symptom index and neurocognitive questionnaire, which offered insights about patient level of emotional distress and cognitive dysfunction. Researchers found that survivors who were diagnosed between the ages of 11 and 21 years of age were more likely than their siblings to develop such issues as depression and anxiety. They were also more likely to have difficulty with emotional regulation, memory and task efficiency than their siblings.

The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, shedding light on the post-treatment years for young cancer survivors. While previous studies have shown that those diagnosed with cancer during earlier childhood periods are likely to have impaired functioning, this was the first study that focused on adolescents diagnosed with the disease. In addition to symptoms reported, survivors in the study were also less likely than their siblings to have college degrees, full-time jobs, to be married or living independently.

While further study is needed to more precisely identify the depth of emotional and cognitive impairment adolescents may face following cancer treatment, the researchers say the findings shed light on the potential issue and the need for more follow-up.

Parents of children and teens who are diagnosed with cancer are urged to make certain follow-up care is provided. While treatments may successfully rid children of the disease, the after-effects may linger, giving rise to the need for continued care and support to help young survivors transition into adulthood successfully.

Parenting Not Off the Table for Breast Cancer Patients

With an estimated 231,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the United States each year, this disease is a serious concern for women. Many of those diagnosed will find themselves in their childbearing years, adding an additional element of potential personal loss to this diagnosis. Treatments to save women from breast cancer often have dire consequences on fertility. Researchers are finding that doesn’t always have to be the case.

Doctors from the New York Medical College in Valhalla have been able to provide pregnancy and fertility preservation services to women with breast cancer. The women underwent ovarian stimulation and other treatments to promote doctors’ ability to harvest and freeze embryos prior to the women receiving chemotherapy. The researchers found that after therapy, 33 of the women underwent about 40 attempts to transfer embryos to their uterus. The overall live birth rate was similar to the general population. There was, however, a 38.8 percent rate of twin pregnancies out of the 18 pregnancies carried out.

While not a perfect solution to the dilemma posed by breast cancer diagnosis in the child bearing years, in vitro fertilization does offer women an option, researchers say. Overall, the procedure was found to have comparable success rates to in vitro fertilization in the general population. In essence, this option offers women the chance to conceive down the road where they might not have been able to otherwise.

Breast cancer is a concern for women of all ages. In the younger years, this disease can be especially devastating. Women are urged to conduct self-examinations and go in for routine checkups to help detect this disease in its earliest stages. If cancer is caught early, treatment has a much high chance for success. In addition, fertility may be preserved through techniques such as in vitro fertilization.

Fear of Radiation Exposure May Be Lowering Mammography Numbers

A misunderstanding about the amount of radiation received during routine mammograms might be frightening patients from reporting for these potentially life-saving screenings. Researchers presented the findings of a study into this topic during the 2014 ARRS Annual Meeting in San Diego. The study revealed that not one of the subjects who participated was able to correctly identify the amount of radiation involved in a mammogram compared with other radiation-based screening procedures.

The study’s findings have led researchers to urge healthcare professionals to take the time to make sure women are accurately informed about the benefits of risks of mammography. The need, researchers say, is to make certain women understand the relative low-risks involved with low-dose ionizing radiation along with the profound benefits associated with early detection of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in American women outside of skin cancer. An estimated one in eight women will face this diagnosis at some point during their lives. All told, about 231,000 new cases of invasive cancer are diagnosed each year in America with some 40,000 women dying from the disease annually.

Early screening for breast cancer is recommended for all women at high risk for the disease. Regular self-examinations and physician-led examinations are also critical for all women, regardless of risk. Routine mammography to detect this cancer as early as possible is generally recommended for women starting around the age of 40. MRI examinations may also be indicated for those at higher risk.

While the potential for exposure to radiation can be disconcerting, women will find that mammography delivers a very slight dose. The test, however, can give them a potentially life-saving edge should breast cancer be detected early so treatment can begin before the disease spreads. Women who are concerned about mammography or other testing procedures are urged to speak with their healthcare providers about the benefits and risks.

Treatment for Cancer: Conventional and Alternative Working Together

Everyone who has undergone cancer treatment has a story about what has worked – or not worked for them. Everyone is different and, in the end, it’s often about finding a specific “cocktail” of therapies that work in tandem to provide the best potential for successful treatment. For many, often a combination of conventional therapies performed by oncologists – chemotherapy, radiation, surgery etc. – and what is considered more alternative therapies – working through a mind/body connection – have proven to be successful, as well as providing relief for a host of symptoms.

Cancer treatments come in many shapes and sizes and they are not always based in traditional medicine. The mind/body connection is something that has continued to receive more and more attention through the years as we come to better understand how cancer works and how we can work through various channels to optimize our physical and emotional health.

Some of the “alternative” therapies that have been successfully used in tandem with modern medicine include:

*        Acupuncture. During acupuncture, small needles are inserted into pressure points throughout the body working to provide relaxation, improved blood flow, and increased energy. Many cancer patients have reported the ability to better manage cancer treatment side effects with acupuncture.

*        Meditation. Meditation and visualization can help in many areas of our life, allowing us to take a moment to relax, de-stress, and invites calm and focus into our minds and bodies. Positive visualization can provide us with a “map” for achieving our goals.

*        Yoga. One of the greatest examples of connecting the mind and body is the practice of yoga. We work through poses that challenge our bodies and we call on our breath and our mental focus to allow us to achieve and hold these poses. Many people find the practice of yoga – as well as a variety of exercise integrated in their daily lives – to be integral to maintaining their strength and energy as well as alleviating a variety of symptoms.

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Is Surgery Right for You?

You’ve received a cancer diagnosis. Now what? You are bombarded with information – from the terminology to the treatment process. Your oncologist may offer a variety of treatment options and surgery may be one of them. Surgery may sound like the scariest option to anyone but in some cases it may be the very best option and will be combined with additional treatment such as radiation, chemotherapy, etc.

So, when is cancer surgery the right thing to do?

*    When there is a tumor present that can be reached by surgery. This is especially true when the cancer hasn’t spread. Localized cancer that is evidenced by a tumor is often best treated by surgery as the primary treatment. Even when the entire tumor can’t be removed, surgeons may remove as much of the tumor as they can in order to allow the follow-up treatments of radiation or chemotherapy to be as effective as possible.

*    When quality of life can be improved. Sometimes the location of a tumor may be causing pain or additional side effects. In this case, the surgical removal of the tumor can relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

*    To prevent cancer. In some cases, doctors may recommend preventative cancer surgery if your risk for developing cancer is high enough for real concern. This may include removal of particular organs or tissues that are at very high risk for developing cancer.

Only you can ultimately make the decision if cancer surgery is right for you. Let your doctor give you the reasons why he thinks that surgery – as a tool for diagnosis, determining your stage of cancer, or removing a tumor – is best. Then do your own research to help support your decision. Visit here for more information.