More than 1.6 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Even though the rate of new cancer cases is dropping and the survival rate is increasing, it pays to know where the risks lie. All this month, Philly.com/health and OncoLink, a cancer information website developed by experts at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center, are presenting 30 things you may not know about your risk of getting cancer. Check back each day for a new fact.
29. Dental Exams
(AP Photo / Michael Sohn)
True or false: A dental exam includes screening for cancer
True.You may not think of your routine dental visit as a cancer screening test, but, in part, it is.Dentists and dental hygienists examine your mouth, tongue and surrounding tissue much more closely than you do and are most often the people who find pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions in early stages of growth.
Oral cancers are diagnosed in more than 34,000 people a year in the United States.
Risk factors include tobacco and alcohol use and HPV infection.
Oral cancers are often preceded by pre-cancerous changes, which may appear as red or white patches or spots.
(AP Photo / University of Chicago Medical Center / Bruce Powell)
True or false: Cancer screening tests can detect only cancer
False.Most screening tests can detect pre-cancerous lesions, which can then be removed to prevent cancer from developing. If cancer is found, a screening test may find it at an early stage, typically making it easier to treat.Cancer screening tests are designed for specific cancers, but there aren’t good tests for every type of cancer, so prevention and risk reduction are still important.
A screening test must be safe.
The results must be reliable and useful.
The benefits of screening must outweigh any risk related to further testing and treatment.
True or false: Your hair stylist can be a useful ally in skin cancer screening
True.A recent study in the Archives of Dermatology reports that hair stylists examine their clients' scalp, neck and face for suspicious lesions while giving them a new do.Some hair professionals even report having had some training in skin cancer detection in school.These professionals look at this area of the skin – an area you cannot see well – from a unique vantage point.So, the next time you’re getting those locks tamed, thank your hair stylist for helping you with your routine skin exams.
True or false: A medication my mother took when she was pregnant with me could put me at risk for cancer
True.Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was given to pregnant women from 1938-1971 because it was believed to prevent miscarriages and promote “healthy pregnancies.”Not only did the drug not prevent problems, it caused health issues for the women taking it as well as for children born of these pregnancies.
Women who took DES are at increased risk for breast cancer.
Daughters of these pregnancies are at risk for developing a rare form of vaginal or cervical cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma.
Additional health concerns for these daughters include infertility, miscarriage and an abnormally shaped uterus.
True or false: Hookahs (water pipes) lower the risks from smoking
False.Hookah smoking burns flavored tobacco using a water pipe. The smoke is inhaled through a long hose. Some claim that the actual amount of tobacco smoked is low and that the water acts as a filter, but these claims are false.
Hookah tobacco contains the same carcinogens and chemicals that cigarette tobacco does.
A one-hour hookah smoking session exposes a smoker to 100 to 200 times the amount of smoke from a single cigarette.
Hookah smoking delivers the same amount of nicotine as a cigarette, so it may be equally addictive.
True or false: What you eat contributes to your cancer risk
True.A healthy diet, regular physical activity and a healthy weight have been linked to a lower risk of developing cancer. These three components make up the “cancer prevention triangle.” They are strongly interrelated, and working to improve one can often lead to improvements in another.
Certain foods have been found to have cancer-causing properties. These foods include charred meats, pickled and salt cured foods, red and processed meats, and white and processed grains.
True or false: Men can – and do - get breast cancer
True. Breast cancer in men accounts for about 1 percent of all breast cancers and about 0.2 percent of all cancers in men. There will be about 2,190 new cases of male breast cancer in 2012, compared with 229,000 cases in women.
Risk factors for male breast cancer include Klinefelter's syndrome, being of Jewish decent, mumps orchitis, a family history of male or female breast cancer, and family cancer syndromes (BRCA1 & 2 gene abnormalities account for 40 percent of cases).
The most common symptom is a mass in the breast. Other symptoms include nipple discharge (particularly if bloody), nipple retraction and skin ulceration.
Mammograms are difficult to perform, particularly on thin men, so a biopsy should be done on any suspicious lump.
True or false: People under 40 don’t need to worry about cancer
False.Every year, 70,000 people between the ages of 15 and 39 (young adults) are diagnosed with cancer.Unfortunately, despite the many advances in cancer care, survival rates in this group have not changed in 30 years.
A cancer diagnosis is eight times more common in young adults than in kids younger than 15.
This age group has the highest uninsured or underinsured rates of any age group in the United States, which may lead to delayed diagnosis and health care.
Health-care providers see young adults as being at low risk for cancer and may not consider this diagnosis. Symptoms may be attributed to stress or fatigue related to school, work or family obligations.
True or false: Eating sugar causes cancer or 'feeds' an already existing cancer
False.A number of recent studies have not shown any relationship between a person’s cancer risk and a person’s sugar consumption.
Every cell in our body uses sugar for fuel.It breaks down easily, providing energy quickly. However, our cells cannot tell whether the glucose in the bloodstream is from a jellybean or from brown rice, as each sugar molecule looks the same to our cells.
Cancer cells are our own cells that have mutated, and they do use the same fuel source that our healthy cells use.
Cancer cells do typically use up more fuel than regular cells, but they, too, cannot distinguish the source of sugar molecules in the bloodstream.
This may sound scary, but a number of recent reviews have come out in the last couple of years that do not show any relationship between a person’s cancer risk and a person’s sugar consumption.
Of the studies that have shown any indication that sugar consumption and carbohydrate intake may influence cancer risk, the increased risk was small.
True or false: Your non-cancer health issues may increase your cancer risk
True.Many diseases increase a person’s risk of developing one type of cancer or another. For instance, hepatitis B and C increase the risk of developing liver cancer, GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux) increases the risk of esophageal cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease increases the risk of cancer in the area of the GI tract that is affected. This is by no means an exhaustive list.As with any new diagnosis, it is in your best interest to get educated about the disease and associated risks. Talk with your health-care provider, search the Internet, and talk to others with the disease.
True or false: Anal cancer is a sexually transmitted disease
True (in most cases).The incidence of anal cancer has been increasing over the last 30 to 40 years, likely related to the prevalence of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is the cause of 80 percent to 90 percent of anal cancer cases.
HPV infects an estimated 75 percent of sexually active females and males.
Many people jump to the conclusion that anal cancer caused by HPV would have to be transmitted through anal sex, which is not the case. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact, not necessarily penetration.
Men who have sex with men are at highest risk and should talk with their health-care providers about this risk and possible screening.
Learn more about sexual practices and cancer risk in men and women on OncoLink. Learn more about HPV, the associated risks and prevention tips, discussed in this webchat. Find out more about your cancer risk by completing OncoLink’s What’s My Risk? assessment.
14. Quitting smoking
(AP Photo / Seth Wenig)
True or false: If I quit smoking, my cancer risk will be the same as someone who never smoked
False.Even though you can’t “undo” your smoking history, the good news is that the risk of having lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses decreases after you stop smoking and continues to decrease as more tobacco-free time passes.
The risk of lung cancer decreases over time, though it can never return to that of a never-smoker.
The risk also continues to decrease for the 12 other types of cancer that smoking can cause.
Quitting smoking leads to health benefits that start right away and continue over many years. This is true even for people who already have a smoking-related disease.
True or false: Exercising regularly can help my heart health, but does not reduce cancer risk
False.Studies have found that exercise can reduce the risk of cancers of the breast, colon, prostate and endometrium (uterus).
Experts feel that somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity is needed to impact cancer risk.A moderate activity is the equivalent of a brisk walk, whereas vigorous activities increase heart and breathing rates.
As you can imagine, healthy weight, physical activity and a good diet are inter-related and one can often lead to another.This trio is a “triangle” of cancer prevention and is thought to be the second most important cancer prevention strategy – after not smoking.
True or false: Dark skinned people are not at risk for skin cancer
False.Brown-skinned people, including black, Asian, Latino and Native Americans, often have a false sense of security when it comes to skin cancer risk. Although it is true that darker-skinned individuals have a lower risk of skin cancer, they are not immune.
Melanomas in darker-skinned individuals tend to occur in areas that are not exposed to sun, such as the buttocks, genitals and bottom of the feet, and under the fingernails or toenails.
They are also more likely to die of the disease than fair skinned individuals, due to later diagnosis and treatment.
True or false: Eating a diet high in red meat or processed foods increases cancer risk
True.A diet high in red meat - or, worse yet, processed foods such as hot dogs, sausage, bologna and lunchmeat - increases not just cancer risk but also the risk of heart disease and early death.This doesn’t mean you can never enjoy a juicy burger. Moderation is key to reducing risk.
A diet high in red and processed meat is strongly linked to colon and rectal cancers and may be related to endometrial and pancreatic cancers.
Limit red meat to one to two servings a week for optimal health. Remember, a serving is about 4 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards.
True or false: An odorless gas in your basement could cause lung cancer
True. Most people are aware that smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer. However, you may not know that the second leading cause of lung cancer - radon - may be lurking, undetected, in your basement.
Radon is a naturally occurring odorless, colorless radioactive gas that results from the decay of rock and soil components.
Radon moves up from the ground into homes, where it becomes trapped and accumulates, exposing inhabitants to its cancer-causing potential.
The amount of radon found in a basement depends on the ground below, the home’s foundation and the ventilation of the space.For this reason, two houses next door to each other can have different radon levels.
True or false: Oral sex comes with a risk of sexually transmitted disease – and cancer
True. While the overall number of cases of head and neck cancer has been decreasing in recent years - consistent with the decrease in tobacco use in this country - cases in young (40- 50-year old) nonsmokers have been on the rise, particularly those of the tonsils and base of the tongue. Why? Human papilloma virus or HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease.
·HPV infects an estimated 75 percent of sexually active females and males.
·Although many people are aware that HPV can cause cervical cancer, they may not be aware of the link between HPV and other cancers, such as cancers of the tongue, throat and tonsils. Media coverage of these cancers falls short of discussing the “touchy” subject of oral sex, one means of HPV transmission.
·Experts believe that changes in sexual behaviors (oral sex with more partners and at earlier ages) may be driving this rise in cancers in younger people.
·The risk is present in both sexes engaging in oral sex with men or with women. HPV does not discriminate.
True or false: Smoking cigarettes causes 13 different types of cancer
True. While most smokers are aware of some of the health problems that smoking causes, such as lung cancer and heart disease, they may not be aware of the 12 other types of cancer that smoking can cause.
Smoking causes 85 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States.
True or false: There is a pill I can take to reduce my cancer risk
True (for some cancers).“Chemoprevention” is the term used to describe the use of a medication, supplement or food to prevent or delay the development of cancer. Although there are many false claims on the Internet about magic pills to prevent cancer, there are medications that are effective chemoprevention agents for several cancers.
Breast cancer prevention is the most studied, with two approved medications for chemoprevention: tamoxifen and raloxifene.
Several medications have shown success in preventing prostate cancer.
Studies have shown that regularly taking aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduces the risk of developing colorectal polyps and cancer.
True or false: Being overweight increases your risk of developing cancer
True.Studies most strongly associate being overweight or obese with a higher risk of breast (postmenopausal women), colorectal, endometrial, esophagus and renal cell cancers. This is likely caused by excess fat raising hormone levels in the body.
• Experts estimate that 14 percent of cancer deaths in men and 20 percent of cancer deaths in women are caused by obesity.
• Losing weight can help. In a sample of U.S. bariatric (weight loss) surgery patients, cancer death rates were 38 percent lower than people who were obese and did not undergo surgery.
True or false: Tanning beds are a safe alternative to sunbathing
False. Popular culture has made us believe that having a tan makes us look healthy and more attractive. Unfortunately, the ultraviolet light exposure required to get this “healthy glow” is killing us. Many people turn to tanning booths to get a quick tan.
Cases of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, are on the rise. Particularly in women ages 20 to 40 – those most likely to use tanning beds.
The tanning industry has been found to be providing false information to patrons, suggesting that the link between skin cancer and tanning is a myth and in some cases suggesting that indoor tanning is beneficial.
The truth is that those who use tanning salons are 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who do not.
True or false: If there is no cancer in your family history, you have no risk of developing cancer
False. Many people believe that having no one in the family with cancer means they have no cancer risk.
Only 15 percent to 20 percent of cancers occur in someone with a family history. Most cases are not related to family history. For example, 80 percent of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer have no family history of the disease at all.
On top of this is the issue of what you don’t know. For many years, discussion of cancer was considered taboo. Family members may have had cancer and it was not discussed - or was referred to as “stomach problems” or other benign conditions so that people wouldn’t know of the diagnosis.
It is important to have family conversations about health history and share this information with one another.
This is not meant to scare people, but to serve as a reminder that cancer screening is important for everyone, even when cancer has not affected a family in the past. Learn more about cancer risk and cancer screening on OncoLink, a cancer information website developed by experts at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center. Find out more about your cancer risk by completing OncoLink’s What’s My Risk? assessment.
(AP Photo / Thanassis Stavrakis)
True or false: Cigars are a 'safe' alternative to cigarettes
False. Many people perceive cigar smoking as safer than cigarettes because most cigar smokers do not inhale while smoking. The truth is, cigars have higher levels of carcinogens and nicotine.
Cigars are particularly dangerous due to the process of aging and fermenting the tobacco, which creates carcinogenic compounds (such as tar, carbon monoxide and ammonia) in cigar smoke in much higher levels than found in cigarette smoke. One large cigar can contain as much tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes.
The amount of nicotine is higher in a cigar (1 to 2 milligrams in a cigarette versus up to 400 milligrams in a single cigar). Since this nicotine is quickly absorbed in the saliva, the addiction to cigars is just as strong as to cigarettes.
Smokers' saliva contains the chemicals from the tobacco smoke, exposing the mouth, lips, tongue and throat to these carcinogens. Although lung cancer rates are lower in cigar smokers, cancers of the mouth, nose and throat are more often seen in this group.