The future of cancer care will mean more cost-effective treatments, technology that improves outcomes (not just a shiny new hammer looking for a nail), a greater focus on improved prevention and screening, and a new mindset: A Surgical Oncologist’s take on … Continue reading
Remember those old black and white movies when most of the actors and actresses smoked their way through countless roles? Back then, smoking was a way of life for the famous and the not-so-famous alike. So, it’s no surprise that John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Lana Turner and numerous other Hollywood stars shared two things in common with millions of their fans: they were heavy smokers and they died from cancer.
It’s been a half century since the Surgeon General’s Report linked tobacco with cancer and other deadly diseases. Today, smoking cigarettes or cigars is no longer part of the lifestyle for a majority of Americans. Yet, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States can be blamed on tobacco. An estimated 160,000 Americans died from lung cancer in 2014 and most of them were smokers. Those who believe they can chew tobacco and escape the risk of cancer are fooling themselves. The chewing habit leads to numerous cancers, including those of the mouth, throat, voice box and esophagus.
Smoking is the most obvious lifestyle choice linked to cancer, but hardly the only one. Even if you don’t use tobacco, you could be leading a lifestyle that increases your risk of cancer. Obesity, a poor diet and inactivity also play significant roles in the incidence of various types of cancer.
The ACS says obesity may be linked to cancers of the pancreas, kidney, colon stomach and uterus. Women who gain excess weight after menopause increase their risk of breast cancer. Obese men may be more likely to be diagnosed with a deadly type of prostate cancer than men of normal weight. Studies cited by the ACS also indicate that obese men and women are at greater risk for pancreatic cancer.
Many studies also show a healthy lifestyle that includes proper nutrition and regular exercise lower your risk of cancer. A steady diet of vegetables, fruit, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy products has been linked to a lower risk of breast, colon and other cancers. Limiting the consumption of processed meats and alcohol may also reduce the risk of various types of the disease.
Of course, even the healthiest among us can’t totally eliminate the risk of cancer. No one can control family histories and other medical factors that increase the risk. However, for most of us, a tobacco-free healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise can help reduce the chances that cancer will strike.
We’ve all witnessed it at major intersections: a homeless man or woman with a cardboard sign trying to coax a few dollars from motorists stopped at red lights. When the light turns green and we hit the accelerator, we leave behind an individual who not only has no place to live, but may have no health care of any kind.
It’s well known that mental health and addiction issues are rampant among the homeless and drive many of them to the streets in the first place. But many are physically unhealthy as well. The diseases they often suffer from include:
*Substance abuse and addiction
*Wound & skin infections
*High blood pressure and heart disease
According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC), the homeless are also at higher risk of communicable diseases from living on the streets or spending time in crowded shelters. Even if seen by a shelter medical professional, there’s not much opportunity for treatment follow-up for high blood pressure, diabetes, and other ailments. The NHCHC says the homeless are three to four times more likely to die prematurely than people who live in traditional housing.
Homeless children face a dire health care situation as well. A recent study by North Carolina State University found that 25 percent of homeless boys and girls have mental health issues. That adds up to an estimated 625,000 homeless children who need, but often don’t receive, mental health treatment.
In addition to inadequate health care, the study notes that homeless children are more likely to be exposed to domestic and neighborhood violence, which leads to developmental delays and social and emotional problems.
So, how do we do a better job of providing health care services to homeless adults and children? I suggest you start small. What does that mean? Consider these statistics from 2014:
In January 2014, there were 578,424 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States.
- Of that number, 216,197 are people in families, and
362,163 are individuals.
- About 15 percent of the homeless population – 84,291 – are considered “chronically homeless” individuals, and
- About 9 percent of homeless people- 49,933 – are veterans (many of whom have given much for us, how can we now help them?).
The numbers have only increased since January 2014, with now more than 650,000 people homeless in America on any given night. That’s a lot of people, and a seemingly big, daunting problem. Starting small doesn’t mean giving some change or a few bucks to somebody on a street corner, it means getting involved at shelters and addiction treatment programs in your town or city. For medical professionals, it means volunteering time and using your contacts to evaluate and treat people with acute or chronic conditions. For everyone, it means finding out what programs or services are available in your community, and then volunteering with your time, your talents, or your resources to promote and aid those programs.
Here in Houston we have many great organizations to assist people struggling with homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. I volunteer at several of them, but The Women’s Home is my favorite group because they are fully committed to changing the lives of the women they take in and treat. This means treating addicted and mentally ill women in a safe, supportive inpatient facility for months or years instead of a few weeks. It means providing the clients (as they call them!) with treatment, counseling, and real life job skills. The Cottage Shop at The Women’s Home is a resale boutique that helps fund the programs and which gives the women a chance to develop productive skills. Most impressively, The Women’s Home includes an affordable housing facility, the Jane Cizik Garden Place, that provides permanent housing to women, including their children, that allows them to maintain sobriety, receive ongoing treatment and counseling, and to develop long-term, successful employment. I was amazed when I learned we had this program in Houston. Does your community have similar programs? Whether they do or not, the programs that are available need your help and support (financial and otherwise). Start by helping one organization or one person; whatever you do will be a small step in providing help to someone in need. Seeing the lives that are changed one person at a time will change your life!
It’s no secret that exercise reduces your risk of heart and respiratory diseases. But did you know that running, walking, playing tennis, swimming or whatever exercise you prefer can help prevent colon cancer?
Numerous studies indicate that regular exercise can reduce your risk of colon cancer by as much as 40 per cent. One study at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston included the collection of data from more than 150,000 men and women over a period of three decades. Researchers found that cancer of the colon or rectum was far less common among people who exercised for 30 minutes several times a week, compared to those who led a sedentary lifestyle.
Another study, this one at the University of Vermont, also concluded that exercise lowers the risk of colon cancer. Researchers studied 17,000 middle age men and found that those who exercise regularly and kept their weight down were 38 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with the disease.
It’s unclear why exercise lowers the risk of colon cancer, but these two studies and many others indicate the connection is unmistakable. Research also shows that cancer patients who exercise regularly are less likely to die from several types of the disease.
As we come to the end of March, designated as Colon Cancer Awareness Month, it’s vital to remember that nothing can eliminate the risk of coming down with the disease. So, even if you live a physically active lifestyle, you shouldn’t run away from colonoscopies and other forms of colon cancer screenings. They can lead to prevention and early detection of the disease and make it much more likely that your healthy lifestyle will continue for many years to come.
Colon Cancer will kill an estimated 50,000 Americans in 2015. That sad prediction comes from the American Cancer Society. It is especially tragic because early screening for the disease would have saved the lives of many of those who will lose their battle against Colon Cancer this year.
March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. We need to focus on this disease because it is one of those cancers that can often be prevented. A colonoscopy can find precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum. The polyps are then removed before they develop into cancer. If the screening leads to the discovery of colon cancer in its early stage, treatment often leads to a cure. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 90 per cent of patients whose colon cancers are found and treated early are still alive five years later.
Who should get screened for Colon Cancer? In general, men and women should get a colonoscopy at the age of 50. Patients with certain medical issues or family history of the disease need to be screened earlier. The CDC currently recommends colonoscopies or other screenings at regular intervals until the age of 75. Your doctor may advise screening beyond 75, depending on your medical history.
Thanks to increased screening, the American Cancer Society says the number of Colon Cancer deaths in the United States has been declining for two decades. Even so, an estimated 130,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed this year. Screening will lead to the discovery of some of those cases in time for the patient’s life to be saved. Tragically, many other patients who had never been screened will have no such reprieve. It doesn’t have to be that way. Have you had your colonoscopy yet?
As a cancer surgeon and research scientist, my life’s work is geared toward fighting the disease in the operating room and the laboratory. My life in medicine has been a true blessing for me and my family. It has introduced me to people and organizations making a remarkable difference in and out of the medical community.
For more than half a century, The Women’s Home has stood out as one of those amazing institutions, serving women in crisis in the Houston community. The Home provides a wide range of services, including residential care, vocational training and spiritual development. The Home’s staff also offers nurse practitioner care and treatment for chemical dependency and mental health issues.
The success of The Women’s Home has been recognized by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That organization has invited the Home to take part in a national workgroup that identifies the most effective methods of providing sober treatment and housing for homeless women. The Home is one of 15 agencies in the United States to receive this recognition from SAMHSA and the only one in Texas.
The Women’s Home also operates one of Houston’s premier resale stores, The Cottage Shop. Established in 1971, The Cottage Shop serves as a training center for residents and offers a wide selection of gently used clothing, accessories, furniture and household goods.
It’s been an honor for me and my wife, Natalie, to serve as volunteers with The Women’s Home. We invite you to attend three upcoming events: The Women’s Home Annual Crawfish Boil on March 28th, the Men & Women’s Invitational Golf Tournament April 6th, and the Afternoon Tea with best-selling author Barbara Taylor Bradford April 8th. You can learn much more about these events and programs available at The Women’s Home by clicking on this link.