Monday, October 16, 2017

Breast Cancer—Early Detection and Screening

October is breast cancer awareness month but women need to be aware of breast health all year long.

“Despite the magnificent strides in breast cancer research, women still need to adhere to screening guidelines recommended for their age group, especially if they have
a family history of breast cancer,” says Catherine Parker, M.D., a fellowship trained breast cancer surgeon at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer among U.S. women in 2017. And finding breast cancer early is one of the most important strategies to prevent death from the disease. When breast cancer is found early, it is small and has not spread, making it easier to treat successfully.

“The good news is that we’re living in a time when women are surviving the disease. In fact, the population of survivors is expected to grow,” says Parker. “However, we still need to be vigilant and take measures to protect ourselves.”

The ACS recommends that women who are at average risk for breast cancer start getting mammograms yearly at age 45 but have the choice to start having annual mammograms at age 40. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or continue yearly screening.

“Mammograms do not detect every breast cancer. Women at every age should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel, as well as be familiar with signs and symptoms of breast cancer,” says Parker. Although there are differing opinions about the benefits of self-breast exams, it is important for patients to know the proper technique, what to look for, and what is their normal; for example, has one breast always been smaller or has one nipple always turned inward; therefore, self-breast awareness should begin in late teens and early 20’s.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast. A painless, hard mass that has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass, lump, or change in breast checked by a health care professional.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
• Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
• Skin irritation or dimpling of the skin
• Breast or nipple pain
• Nipple retraction (turning inward)
• Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
• Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)

For women who have a family history of breast cancer, the UAB Breast Health Center offers comprehensive guidance on risk assessment, genetic testing, screenings, and prevention strategies. Furthermore, the Center takes a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care. When patients are diagnosed with breast cancer they are immediately assigned a team of specially trained breast cancer experts (a medical oncologist, radiologist and surgeon) who are able to give them individualized recommendations regarding their diagnosis, treatment, surgery, and recovery. The clinic is also able to offer first and second opinions for any problems related to the breast.

“The program is also able to offer screening and clinical management for women who have an increased risk of both ovarian cancer and breast cancer,” says Parker.


For more information about early detection and screening, click here.




Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer


The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017, 22,440 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 14,080 women will die from the disease. Ovarian cancer deaths account for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. However, the rate of ovarian cancer diagnosis has been slowly decreasing over the last 20 years.

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries. Ovaries are reproductive glands that only women have to produce eggs. The ovaries are made up of three different types of cells and all three cell types can develop into a different type of tumor.

It is important for women to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer so that the cancer can be detected early and the patient can begin treatment. Symptoms include:
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms such as urgency or frequency

“The problem with ovarian cancer is that it is often diagnosed at a late stage,” says Michael Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The symptoms are often associated with more common and less serious conditions, and most women wait to get it checked out.” 

Birrer, a medical oncologist, confirms that when ovarian cancer is detected at an early stage the cancer remains confined to the ovary and is often more easily treated.  “Frequency of the symptoms should help women know when to consider seeking additional help from their doctor.”

If you have symptoms similar to those of ovarian cancer almost daily for more than a few weeks, and they can't be explained by other more common conditions, report them to your health care professional, preferably a gynecologist, right away. Other symptoms can include: fatigue, upset stomach, back pain, constipation, pain during sex, menstrual changes and abdominal swelling with weight loss.

“I always say that it’s best for women to be in tune with their bodies,” says Birrer.

Physicians typically provide a physical exam which includes a pelvic exam to look for an enlarged ovary, they may refer you to a gynecologic oncologist who may conduct additional testing including a computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound. 

Many women mistakenly believe a Pap test, a cervical smear test, can detect ovarian cancer.  In some unusual cases it may, but so far there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer.  Better ways to screen for ovarian cancer are currently being researched.  


Monday, August 14, 2017

Stress Management after Cancer



Cancer treatments can definitely have a physical impact on the body during and after treatments. But did you know that they can also affect the way someone thinks and feels? For many, it’s normal to experience a range of side effects during treatment that can linger for months and sometimes years after treatments end.  In addition, there are a myriad of emotions associated with a cancer diagnosis – such as stress and anxiety.  For some, these feelings can also cause even more physical and emotional disorders like chronic fatigue and depression.

Many cancer survivors experience stress after cancer diagnosis and following cancer treatment. While there is no research that stress actually causes cancer, we do know that stress causes other health problems. “Sustained stress hormones, over a long period of time, may even damage our body on a cellular and molecular level. And, we are just beginning to explore how the mind and body works in relation to our emotional states,” said Teri Hoenemeyer, Ph.D., the director of Education and Supportive Services at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

It’s important to have ways to cope with and reduce stress. Many cancer survivors find that spending time participating in activities they enjoy can help them feel calm or relaxed. “Often, patients will say that they feel disconnected from their bodies, their emotions, and even their relationships with others after a cancer diagnosis,” said Hoenemeyer. “Engaging in activities that are comforting and meaningful to patients helps them become more introspective and aware of just how much the stress of their disease and treatment can impact how they feel. Once aware, they can then recognize triggers so they can cope and manage better.” Some of the suggestions Hoenemeyer provides for managing and coping with stress include:
  • Exercise is a common way to reduce stress—whether you have had cancer or not. Exercise can be as simple as a walk down your street or walking with a friend or neighbor for 30 minutes. Check with your healthcare provider before exercising, it is important not to overdo yourself and your body.
  • Mind-Body Techniques refer to activities such as meditation, breathing techniques, or gentle yoga intended to lower your stress level and calm your mind and body. These can be done at-home and whenever you are experiencing stress.
  • Creative Outlets include art, music, or dance and gives people a chance to express themselves. You do not need to have experience with art, music, or dance to participate in these activities and have fun doing them. They can be done at home or by participating in a class offered in your community.

All of these activities are great ways for you and your loved ones to reduce stress after cancer. Rehabilitation of the mind and body is an important part of recovery.

Start reducing your stress today and attend this great art event here at UAB:


Lilly Oncology on Canvas, UAB Arts in Medicine and the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center are putting on an art event to honor anyone with a cancer experience. The event will be held in the UAB North Pavilion of the UAB Hospital on Thursday, August 17, 2017 from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. You do not need to have any art experience or supplies, everyone is welcome to attend!
For more information about this art event, contact Dr. Hoenemeyer at tgw318@uab.edu or (205) 934-5772.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

The month of May brings our attention to skin cancer. Summer calls for a variety of outdoor activities, such as afternoons at the ballpark, outdoor picnics, trips to the beach or just a day by the pool. As this season is quickly approaching, it is important to understand what skin cancer is and how we can prevent it while still enjoying those long, fun-filled days in the sun.

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed annually. By definition, skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that primarily occurs on skin that has seen excessive exposure to the sun or tanning beds. There are three major skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. If treated early, the prognosis is usually not life-threatening.

Know the signs and symptoms of skin cancer:
  • Signs of non-melanoma skin cancers include new red lesions that steadily grow, non-healing sores or crusted areas on the skin, bumps with a "pearly" or translucent surface, and any tender growths on the skin's surface.
  • Melanomas are darkly pigmented, discolored areas or bumps with an asymmetrical shape, irregular borders, or dark black or multicolored surface. While the majority of melanomas do not arise from moles, new or changing moles in adulthood should be examined.

blake phillips"Over a lifetime, it's quite common for high-risk patients to develop multiple skin cancers on different body sites," says C. Blake Phillips, M.D., a fellow in the UAB Department of Dermatology. "That said, most skin cancers have an excellent cure rate if detected and treated early. I encourage learning the signs of skin cancer and self-exams between clinic visits. Patient awareness is extremely helpful in early diagnosis."




Dr. Phillips outlines several ways in which we can protect ourselves from the sun:
  • Wear protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats with sunglasses when out in the sun.
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF value of 30 or higher.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. Also note that "water resistant" does not mean "waterproof," as waterproof sunscreen does not exist.
  • When sweating or swimming, sunscreen should be reapplied at least every 2 hours or even more. Sunscreen can be rubbed off by a towel, so reapply after drying off as well.
  • Limit your direct exposure to the sun and seek shade, especially during the hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. when UV rays are the strongest.
  • Avoid indoor tanning. Staying away from the tanning bed altogether is one of the easiest ways to avoid skin cancer, yet an estimated 11.3 million Americans engage in indoor tanning. In fact, more than 410,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States may be linked to indoor tanning.
It is important to remember that anyone with skin is at risk for developing skin cancers. "While less common, even those with heavily pigmented skin can develop skin cancer," says Dr. Phillips.

Talk to your doctor or click here to learn more or schedule an appointment at UAB.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month

May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month. Bladder cancer, a type of cancer that forms in the tissue of the bladder, is the fourth most common cancer in men. Despite this, bladder cancer awareness remains surprisingly low. It is important to understand the symptoms of bladder cancer and who it affects, as well as measures you can take to prevent it.
 
The American Cancer Society lists the most common symptoms of bladder cancer:
  • Blood in the urine
  • Changes in bladder habits or symptoms of irritation
    • Having to urinate more frequently
    • Pain or burning during urination
    • Having trouble urinating or having a weak urine stream
    • Feeling as if you need to go right away, even when the bladder is not full
Symptoms of advanced bladder cancer include:
  • Being unable to urinate
  • Lower back pain on one side
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Swelling in the feet
  • Bone pain
Understanding the symptoms of bladder cancer can lead to early detection, which improves the chances of being treated successfully. Often times, these symptoms are caused by a multitude of things other than bladder cancer, but it is still important to have them checked so that the cause can be found and treated if need be.

 
The American Cancer Society also lists some statistics that we should be aware of:


  • Smokers are 3 times more likely to get bladder cancer than nonsmokers.
  • About 9 out of 10 people with bladder cancer are over the age of 55.
  • Men are about 3 to 4 times more likely to develop bladder cancer than women.
  • Whites are about 2 times more likely to develop bladder cancer than African Americans and Hispanics.




Jeffery Nix, M.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Urology and associate scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center says, "For bladder cancer patients, median age of diagnosis is 75. About 50 percent of cases are related to smoking, so they'll have other health issues as well. They also have high complication rates after surgery."
 
Why UAB?
The UAB urology program is one of the few nationally ranked urology programs in the Southeast. Patients that choose the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center for their genitourinary cancer will receive treatment from highly reputable urologists, as well as a personal care plan that utilizes the latest technology and techniques.
 
To learn more or schedule an appointment, visit our website.