Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the U.S., with about 143,000 new patients diagnosed last year. But thanks to increased awareness about screenings, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for more than 20 years. “For the most part, colorectal cancer is a curable and preventable disease,” says Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, clinical director of the Dana-Farber Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center. “We have very good data that shows screening prevents disease and saves lives.” With March marking Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, here are the answers to some key questions about the disease:
When cancer develops in someone with other diseases, it can be more serious, according to a recent annual report from several national cancer organizations. “Cancer does not occur in isolation,” says Lawrence Shulman, MD, in commenting on the report. “It occurs in a human being, who may have other medical problems.”
Approximately 10,000-11,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. But with women having regular cervical cancer screenings, incidence and death rates from the disease have decreased by at least 80 percent in the U.S. “Cervical cancer in the U.S. has become less of a frequently diagnosed cancer because of the institution of the Pap smear,” says Ursula Matulonis, MD, medical director of Gynecologic Oncology at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber. As January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, here are five important questions about cervical cancer screening:
Some people claim that if the fluids and tissues in your body become too acidic – that is, if the concentration of hydrogen in them is too high – your chance of developing cancer increases. Similar claims state that by reducing your intake of certain foods, you can lower your acidity levels, making the body more “alkaline” and less hospitable to cancer.
By Christopher Lathan, MD, MS, MPH When cancer strikes someone who is already facing other hardships – for example, he or she is poor, alone, or has a language barrier – the experience is very different than it might be for someone who has more resources and support. The Cancer Care Equity Program at Dana-Farber, which is funded by the Kraft Family Foundation, helps vulnerable patients in the community obtain the cancer care they might not receive otherwise.
By Sarah Feldman, MD, MPH Healthy young women should get their first Pap test at age 21. If that test is normal, they should have additional Pap tests every three years. If they have symptoms such as abnormal bleeding or are found to have an abnormality on their cervix during an exam, they may need a diagnostic Pap for cervical cancer earlier. Immunosuppressed women should start Pap testing with the onset of sexual activity, then repeat annually.
The use of hair dyes is widespread. It’s estimated that more than a third of women over age 18 and 10 percent of men over age 40 – a group that numbers in the millions in the U.S. alone – color their hair. Even if exposure to hair dye increases cancer risk only slightly, the effect on public health could be significant. We turned to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to investigate.
When Angelina Jolie underwent a preventative double mastectomy earlier this year, this issue of cancer risk and genetics made front-page headlines. Jolie, who announced the operation in a New York Times op-ed, tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation and learned she had an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer. Jolie’s announcement left many women wanting to know more: What is a gene mutation? Should I undergo genetic testing? What should I do if my tests are positive?
By Robert Haddad, MD Human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccinations were originally advised only for girls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Pediatrics now recommend that both girls and boys be vaccinated. The recommendations are well founded: HPV infection is the number one cause of oropharyngeal cancer, which occurs in the middle part of the throat and is diagnosed in about 14,000 Americans each year. Men are three times more likely than women to develop oropharyngeal cancers linked to HPV.