Q&A: On the lookout for cancer
Every year, more than a million people in the U.S. find out they have cancer. Fortunately, because of advances in cancer detection and treatment, most of them will survive the disease.
“Most of the time, the earlier we find cancer, the better the chance of curing it,” says Eugene Choi, MD, PhD, an oncologist with Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital.
Dr. Choi answers key questions about cancer risk factors, symptoms and screenings.
Q: What are some risk factors for cancer?
Smoking tops the list. It’s probably the most detrimental thing a person can do. It’s strongly linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, head and neck, pancreas, and stomach.
So if you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit.
Also, tell your doctor if any family members have cancer. Many cancers don’t run in families. But some do. So it’s still important for your doctor to know.
Q: What are some common warning signs of cancer?
There are many types of cancer and many possible signs. But anything that’s unusual for you that persists for two or more weeks should be checked by your doctor. That might include:
- A lump in the breast
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- A cough you can’t shake
- An unexplained weight loss
- Unusual fatigue
- Blood from the rectum
If you’re over 50 and have blood from the rectum, get a colonoscopy—even if you have hemorrhoids.
Q: How can doctors find cancer early?
One way is with screening tests. Screening can help us find breast, cervical, prostate, colon and lung cancers early. So ask your doctor when you should have these:
- Mammograms and Pap tests (for women)
- PSA blood tests (for men)
- Colonoscopies and lung scans (for men and women)
Cancer screenings are not guaranteed. But they’re the best thing we have for finding cancer.