Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Gynecological Cancer Awareness

September is gynecological cancer awareness month. In 2017, more than 107,000 new cases of gynecologic cancers were diagnosed in American women. Of those, an estimated 31,600 women lost their fight with a gynecologic cancer.
Every woman is at risk for developing a gynecologic cancer. Risk tends to increase with age, and there is always a heightened possibility of cancer due to family history or race. Lifestyle choices such as chronic smoking and obesity can impact one’s risk for developing a gynecologic cancer; for instance, there is a correlation between higher rates of uterine/endometrial cancers in obese women.

“The biggest takeaway for women is to stay mindful of their bodies, report any symptoms that appear even remotely irregular and make sure they have their screenings conducted on a yearly basis. These actions can ultimately save their life,” said Warner Huh, M.D., senior medical officer of UAB Cancer Service Line and director of the UAB Division of Gynecologic Oncology. Screening can result in early detection, when a cancer is more likely to be treated successfully.

“Most people who get a gynecologic cancer don’t have obvious risk factors,” Huh said. “With these types of cancers, what women can control is being screened regularly and seeking medical advice if something doesn’t seem right with their bodies.”

The infographic below explains the symptoms of the top five most common gynecologic cancers. If you have questions, ask your doctor or visit www.uabmedicine.org/WomensCancers.com.

Monday, August 13, 2018

HPV Vaccine Q & A

Dr. Isabel Scarinci, Associate Director for Globalization and Cancer Disparities initiative at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center provides some very helpful information on the HPV vaccine. While  your kids are finishing up their summer fun and getting ready to go back to school, don't forget about the HPV vaccine!

1. How common are Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections?
Extremely common. We refer to it as the “common cold” of sexually transmitted infections. At least 75 percent of sexually active individuals have been exposed to HPV in their lifetime. But, the good news is that most people get rid of the virus. If the infection persists over time then it can turn into pre-cancer, and if not treated, into cancer. There is no treatment for the virus and, therefore, there is no point in screening for it among younger individuals because most of them will be free of this virus by the age of 30 to 35.
More good news, there is treatment for changes caused by the HPV virus before it turns into cancer.

2. How do you get HPV?
  You can get HPV through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV.

3. How can we prevent cervical cancer?
Nearly all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV. The best way to truly prevent cervical cancer is to get vaccinated before exposure to the virus. That is why the vaccine is recommended to children between the ages of 11 and 12.
For some of us, who are older, and beyond vaccination age, the best way to prevent cervical cancer is through screening. Screening can detect changes before cancer is developed. You should talk to your doctor on how often you should be screened for cervical cancer.
There are only two cancers in which changes can be detected before cancer develops: cervical cancer and colorectal cancer (through colonoscopy, which is recommended for individuals 50 years of age and older).
I truly believe that we can eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem in my lifetime. We have the best tools that have been tested through extensive research: vaccinate our children, and get screened as recommended by our primary care provider or gynecologist.

4. How well does the vaccine protect against HPV infections?
The HPV vaccine protects the body from the infection. The vaccine provides enough protection so even if the person you have sex with is infected with HPV you cannot acquire it.

5. Why is the HPV vaccine recommended for children ages 11 or 12?
We need to protect children way before they could be exposed through the virus.  Also, protection from the disease is related to the immune system. At age 11 or 12, children’s response to the vaccine is stronger than at a later age. Although the vaccine is recommended for children between 11 and 12 years of age, vaccination can start as early as age nine. Children between nine and 14 only need two doses of the vaccine 6 months apart, while older children need three doses. The vaccine is recommended up to age 26 among women and age 21 among men.

6. Why should we vaccinate boys?
According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, more than 31,000 people will be diagnosed with human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancer this year, and 40 percent of them will be among men. The idea is that if we vaccinate both boys and girls we can protect them from developing these cancers.

7. What do we need to do to increase uptake of the HPV vaccine?
It takes a village to raise children. Pediatricians should encourage parents to get children vaccinated and parents should ask pediatricians about how to get their children vaccinated. The conversation about the HPV vaccine needs to happen in all aspects of our social circles. By engaging everyone, we can spread knowledge about the success of the HPV vaccine and how we can protect children from developing HPV-related cancers.
That is how we ended polio. As a polio survivor, I saw this occur in my lifetime. Why shouldn’t we be able to do the same for cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers? We have the tools and the research to prove that it is safe and effective is already done. Now, it is on us, as citizens, to take this on.

8. What do you think discourages some parents from vaccinating their kids?
We just finished a study in Alabama that asked parents, pediatricians, nursing staff and other stakeholders what discourages parents from vaccinating their kids. The main reasons were: safety concerns with vaccination, no communication about the vaccine from their pediatrician and lack of information or misinformation regarding the vaccine.
Every parent wants the best for their children, one way to start is to seek information through reliable resources like our UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, and other reputable sources.

For more information on the HPV vaccine click here.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"My interruption": One woman's diagnosis with cancer

Marie Sutton
Marie Sutton is a strategic communications professional, author, wife and mother of two. She was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer in January 2018. This post originally appeared on her blog and is reprinted here with her permission.

The Birmingham sky was postcard pretty on the Friday that I found out I have Stage 3 breast cancer. Brilliant brushstrokes of cerulean stretched from East Lake to West End and the sun pierced through the sky. It was like the setting of a dream, but the snap of cold in the air reminded me that it wasn’t.

It was lunchtime, and my team and I were interviewing for an opening in our department. The candidate, a woman, was in her early thirties. She had a messy ponytail, cheap mail-order tortoiseshell glasses and wore an ink blue pants suit that revealed her skinny legs. Five minutes into her talk, I wrote the words: “She’s a no.” She rambled and complained about her former employer and my mind drifted toward lunch.

I discreetly pulled out my phone underneath the table and scrolled through emails while she answered the questions from our prepared list. I saw that I had missed a call from an “801” number and my heart began to beat in my chest.

I clumsily excused myself from the room, walked over to a corner of the hallway and dialed my voicemail. The woman's message began with a sigh, and then, in a heavy African accent, said, “Mrs. Sutton, I have your results. Please call me.”

My knees began to buckle and I looked around for a place to go. I walked out onto the student center patio and tried to steady my fingers while calling back the number.

“Are you somewhere where you can talk?” the doctor said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you want me to call you back when you can talk?”

“No,” I said. My stomach was in knots and I felt I as if was going to throw up.

“Well...I am the doctor who did your biopsies. Do you remember me?”

“Yes,” I said, becoming annoyed. It had been less than 48 hours since she was pulling tissue from my right breast and lymph nodes. How could I forget?

“Well, we tested all three of the areas and all three came back cancer.”

Her words felt like a sledgehammer to the side of my head. Vibrations were coming from my skull and her words seeped in, in slow motion.  

With each word she spoke – “metastasized” and “mastectomy” – a part of me slowly deflated. I thought of my 10-year-old daughter who loves art and hangs on my every word and of my 9-year-old baby boy who wants to save all the animals and enjoys kissing my cheeks. I thought of the possibility of dying. I was just two weeks shy of my 44th birthday. 

After I hung up, her words were still sitting in my ear. I tried to get them out with my finger, but they were stuck.

I sat and stared for a moment. I spotted a man in the distance on the fifth floor of a parking deck. He was near the edge of the guardrail. “What is he doing,” I thought to myself. Was he going to jump?

Maybe I should jump.

I called my husband and without taking a breath, blurted out, “They said I have cancer.”

“I’m on my way,” he said and immediately came to my job. I walked toward the parking lot in a daze. I left my purse, my car, my keys, my coat. 

When I got into his gray Infiniti, he grabbed my hand and said, "I'm sorry."

I didn’t speak, couldn’t speak.
He held my hand the entire drive. I stared out the window and tried to find words to say.
When we got home, he and I prayed, ate sandwiches, and watched episodes of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” We didn't know what else to do, so we laughed and cried and braced ourselves for cancer.

Follow more of Marie’s story through diagnosis and treatment on her blog marieasutton.com

Friday, June 1, 2018

Putting the “MEN” in treament of commonly diagnosed cancer-related diseases

June 2018 marked the 24th annual Men’s Health Month, which began in 1994 with the goal of encouraging early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. Among these diseases are a number of cancers that target men specifically. In fact, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that cancer mortality is 196.8 per 100,000 men.
It might come as no surprise that prostate cancer is the leading cancer risk for men, and certain risk factors are unpreventable, but this does not stand in the way of weakening or even preventing your own risk. In addition to prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, bladder cancer and melanoma are among the most common forms of cancer affecting men.
There are a number of preventative measures available to reduce the risk of diagnosis. The most evident forms of risk reduction include a healthy diet and exercise routine and research has proven that the expected “diet and exercise” speech is not to be ignored. In fact, a study from the NCI has shown that even “leisure-time” physical activity among men with colorectal cancer has been linked to a 31 percent lower risk of death than those who were not physically active. Similarly “vigorous activity” for just three hours a week resulted in a 61 percent lower risk of death among men with non-metastatic prostate cancer.
A new diet is never easy to get used to and the marketing of so many transformative fad diets quite often subdues the much simpler ways we can adjust our palates. Food has a way of fulfilling a specific purpose in the same way that certain physical activities target areas of our bodies. The NCI suggests a diet high in calcium (about 2.5 grams/day). Here are a few familiar foods high in calcium and proven to improve colon health and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer: dark green vegetables, low-fat yogurts, spinach, white beans, peas and lentils.
On the other hand, there are certain foods that we all might be a little too familiar with. During the months of June and July the grill is no stranger to most men, but learning how to eliminate or reduce the amount of certain meats goes a long way in reducing the risk for prostate and colorectal cancer, as well. With no fiber and limited nutrients, meat often acts primarily as a source of saturated fat and sometimes cancer-causing compounds. Here are some foods to keep away from the grill this summer:
  • Red Meats: beef, pork, lamb
  • Processed Meats: hot dogs, raw sausages, lunch meats

Skin Care Matters:
Of course, the grill isn’t the only thing feeling the heat in the summer. While you’ve seen what can be done to help your body’s interior, it’s true that men frequently neglect the importance of protecting their skin from harmful Ultraviolet rays. In fact,
the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that although men are three times more likely to develop melanoma by age 80, studies show that women are more likely to know the facts. Keep yourself informed and study up! The following information from the AAD is imperative when it comes to reducing your risk of developing skin cancer:
  • There’s no such thing as a healthy tan
  • The sun is strongest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., so try to find some shade during this time
  • SPF 30+, broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen offers the most helpful protection
  • A self-skin test can be performed before seeing a dermatologist for a skin check
  • Skin cancer can develop on skin that doesn’t see a lot of sun
  • Spots that often change in size and shape should be examined
Now that you’ve received some necessary information and advice, consider yourself aware. Share your Men’s Health knowledge with any other guys who might benefit from a few dietary changes or perhaps a bit more sunscreen. With these tips, you’re equipped to fight off more than just mosquitoes in the summer.
For more information on cancer and risk factors click here.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Role of Exercise During and After Cancer Care

Exercise plays a crucial role in healthy living during and after cancer treatment. However, cancer patients and survivors may need to exercise less intensely and complete their workout at a slower pace than they are used to.

Exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous in order to produce results. “Research has shown that exercise is not only safe and possible during cancer treatment, it can actually improve how well you function physically and how well you feel ,” says Teri Hoenemeyer, Ph.D., director of Education and Supportive Services at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.”Adding more physical activity to your daily routines can include: walking around your neighborhood after dinner, doing yard work, house cleaning, using the stairs or parking farther away from a building than usual or taking 10-minute walking breaks during the day.

“Fatigue during and after chemotherapy and radiation can make you want to limit your physical activity too much, but completely stopping can actually increase fatigue, creating a vicious cycle,” Hoenemeyer says. “In fact, recent studies indicate that exercise that increases your heart rate, like fast walking, can reduce fatigue.”

In addition to physical benefits, there are many mental benefits of exercise. Exercise can help you relax, and it relieves anxiety. It also reduces your chances of developing anxiety and depression.

“Having an outlet, like exercise, to relieve stress is an important part of getting well and staying healthy,” Hoenemeyer adds. Other benefits of exercise during cancer treatment include:
Improved balance, decreased risk of falls and broken bones
  • Maintained muscle tone 
  • Decreased risk of heart disease 
  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break) 
  • Improved blood flow to legs and decreased risk of blood clots 
  • Improved self-esteem 

Even though there is still a lot of research on the effects of exercise on cancer recovery and on the immune system that needs to be done, most agree that regular exercise during and after a cancer diagnosis has positive health benefits. Physical activity may also reduce the risk of getting the following types of cancer or prevent cancer from recurring:
  • Breast cancer 
  • Colon cancer 
  • Endometrial cancer 
  • Advanced prostate cancer 
  • Pancreatic cancer 

Exercise and increased physical activity can also help prevent chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and hypertension.

When starting an exercise program or routine, each person will have different physical abilities due to their age, diagnosis and prior exercise experience so it is important to talk to your doctor before starting. Here are a few tips for starting an exercise routine:
  • Start slowly and take frequent breaks 
  • Use a mix of muscle groups for strength training, aerobics, and flexibility 
  • Always warm up first and stretch afterward 
  • Don’t push yourself and listen to your body 
  • Take deep breaths and relax! 

For more information on current exercise recommendations for cancer patients and survivors, visit the American Cancer Society online.

Take the first step in starting an exercise route by joining us on Saturday, June 2 for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center’s inaugural Lace Up for a Cure, a 2K (1.3 mile) walk raising awareness and education of services offered at the UAB Cancer Center and bringing together individuals who have been touched by cancer.

All ages are welcome. Free onsite parking is available. Learn more and register today!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Understanding Screening Options for Colorectal Cancer

March is colorectal cancer awareness month.

When there is an abnormal growth in the colon or rectum it is called colorectal cancer. The colon and rectum, which are commonly referred to as the large intestine, are the lower part of the digestive system, which processes food for energy and rids the body of solid waste. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. 

Having polyps found early and removed from the colon or rectum keeps some people from getting colorectal cancer. In order to find polyps early, it is important to know when to get screened by your doctor. Starting at age 50, men and women who have average risk, age 45 for African Americans due to the slight increase in risk and age 40 for people with a family history of colorectal cancer diagnosed before the age of 60.

There are a few different screening tests that can be used to detect colorectal cancer. Your doctor can help determine which screening test is right for you. “Each test has its advantages and disadvantages, but the colonoscopy is the only test that is both a screening test and a therapeutic test,” says Dr. Nipun Reddy, Clinic Director in the UAB Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Screening test options include:
  •          Colonoscopy- most comprehensive method and is recommended every 10 years
  •          Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)- if this method is chosen it must be done annually
  •         CT Colonography- if this method is chosen it must be done every 5 years
  •          Stool DNA test (Cologuard)- if this method is chosen it must be done every 3 years
All of the above tests are approved for colorectal cancer screening. If any test comes back positive and/or irregular, a colonoscopy will be needed. More information on each test can be found here.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer:
  •         Family history of colon cancer or polyps- One first degree relative (parents or siblings) diagnosed before the age of 60 or two second degree relatives (grandparent, uncle, aunt) diagnosed before the age of 60. 
  •         Personal History of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis)
  •        Age
  •        Being overweight or obese
  •         Physical Inactivity 
  •         Diet high in red meats (beef, pork, lamb, liver) and processed meats (hot dogs and luncheon meats)
  •         Smoking
  •         Heavy Alcohol Use 
Talking with your doctor about colorectal cancer can be overwhelming. It is important to remember that this is their specialty and they are there to help you and provide guidance, expertise and advice.
“A conversation about colorectal cancer screening with your doctor should begin anytime and a careful review of family history will help determine if screening should begin sooner,” says Dr. Reddy.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Gift of Giving

For many of us, the holidays can become a busy time. Our inboxes and mailboxes are filled. Our to-do lists are a mile long. Most of us are managing busy work schedules with kids, out of town guests, baking and gift wrapping. It can be overwhelming and it’s easy to forget that the holidays are a time for giving and it doesn’t have to by darting from store to store.

There are all kinds of ways to incorporate small acts of giving into your holiday routine. When you give or donate to others, the effect is often much greater, deeper and more meaningful than you think. Some gifts have a ripple effect. Here are a few patients who, because of generous donations like those made to the Silvia Aaron Memorial Fund at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, were able to continue their treatments.

• A widowed patient who was being evicted from her home;
• A mother with three teenage children who was unable to work but needed help with her utilities;
• A woman who was homeless and needed to secure an apartment;
• A father with two young children who was able to pay his car payment so he could travel to UAB for his weekly treatments;
• An 18-year-old patient who recently graduated high school and had to postpone work and college while undergoing radiation treatment.

Donations like these make such a positive difference in people’s everyday lives. This year, while you are busy with holiday festivities, we encourage you to remember how much of an impact your seemingly small gift can make in someone else’s life.

If you are so moved to give in this way, click here to donate. Thank you for your continued support and generous donations to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

Happy Holidays! ⛄🌟🎄