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  • Writer's pictureTatiana Phillips

Understanding Cancer: A Guide In Two Parts - Part Two


A little boy wearing a blue tee shirt who is pointing out his missing tooth.

Part One: Recap of Understanding Cancer: A Guide In Two Parts

For those following along, we wrote a blog in July about cancer, its common signs, and its symptoms. In this second and final part, we will cover how to prevent cancer, what to do if you are diagnosed with cancer, and how to access healthcare services near you.


Part Two: Prevention, Treatment, and Access to Healthcare Services


Risk Factors, Prevention, and Early Detection


Identifying Common Risk Factors Associated With Cancer

Most people understand that their daily habits contribute to their overall health. However, there is always the chance that you are unaware of how big of a risk you may have for developing cancer. Scientists study large groups of people to identify the most common risks associated with what causes cancer and what contributing factors increase that risk. After decades of testing, the most-studied known or suspected risk factors for cancer include cancer-causing substances such as asbestos, coal tar, formaldehyde, secondhand tobacco smoke, soot, and wood dust. Other common risks include alcohol use, chronic inflammation, diet, hormones, immunosuppression, obesity, radiation such as sunlight, and tobacco use.


While the most common risk factors typically include repeated exposure to or continuous habits of such things as listed above, sometimes people get cancer due to things such as age, which cannot be prevented or helped. Scientists are still unsure why some people develop cancer while others who continue to have bad habits, such as smoking, don’t. Most of the time, despite maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the reason why people develop cancer can be tied to genetics. Inherited genetics cause certain cancers to occur despite taking preventative measures.


Simple Lifestyle Choices To Reduce Cancer Risk

Because nobody wants to get cancer, outside of genetics, there are simple lifestyle choices you can make to reduce your risk of getting cancer. Many of the suspected cancer-causing factors are things you can take control of. Daily habits such as substance use, diet, immobility, etc., are things that, with some guidance, can be turned around.


If you are a tobacco user, drug user or drink alcohol regularly, Drug Free Hardee is a great resource to help you conquer your habits.


Suppose you want to find a new exercise routine or form new healthy habits moving your body. In that case, several fitness classes, groups, and locations in our area are a great way to start moving.


We recommend you consult a physician before starting any new diet or exercise program. If you need help finding a physician to help you, please contact one of our Community Health Workers.

Importance of Regular Medical Check-Ups and Screenings for Early Detection

Many cancer risk factors include genetics, which, unfortunately, are not something you can prevent or avoid. However, early detection, regular screenings, and routine medical check-ups are great ways to take some control over your health. “Screening increases the chance of finding cancer or precancerous areas when they are smaller and usually easier to treat. If you do not get the recommended screening, you may miss the chance to find cancer at an earlier stage.”


The two most common screenings are mammograms and colonoscopies. Additionally, women aged 25 to 65 should be screened for cervical cancer at their annual physical or gynecological visit.


The recommended age for women to receive annual mammogram screenings begins at 40. However, the American Cancer Society has the following recommendations.

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.

  • Women aged 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.

  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years or can continue yearly screening.

  • Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live ten more years or longer.

  • All women should know the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening.

Women should also know how their breasts typically look and feel by performing monthly self-breast exams and immediately report any breast changes to a health care provider.

Some women should be screened with MRIs and mammograms because of their family history, genetic tendencies, or other factors. (The number of women in this category is minimal.) Talk with a healthcare provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.

The American Cancer Society recommends starting regular screening at age 45 for men and women at average risk for colorectal cancer. If you’re healthy, you should continue routine screening through age 75. For people ages 76 through 85, talk with your healthcare provider about whether continuing to get screened is right for you. Consider your preferences, overall health, and past screening history when deciding. People over 85 should no longer get colorectal cancer screening.


Diagnosing Cancer and Treatment for Cancer


Overview of the Diagnostic Process and Tests

Unfortunately, cancer is not diagnosed with one test. Typically, testing includes a combination of tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry test, cytogenetic analysis, immunophenotyping, liquid biopsy, sputum cytology, tumor marker tests, urinalysis, urine cytology, CT scan, MRI, nuclear scan, bone scan, PET scan, ultrasound, x-rays, and biopsies. Your physician will determine the types of recommended testing. Several common cancer treatment options are available if your physician finds you have cancer. They may first recommend additional testing to see how far the cancer has spread, the grade of a tumor, or biomarkers. These tests will help them find your body's best course of action.


Introduction to Common Cancer Treatment Options

Depending on your type of cancer, your body and genetic makeup, your insurance coverage, and your physician’s recommendations, your course of treatment may change over time. The most common cancer treatment options include surgery to remove the cancer cells, chemotherapy that kills or shrinks cancer cells, radiation therapy to kill or shrink the cancer cells, hormone therapy to block the cancer cells from receiving the hormones they need to grow, immunotherapy to fight cancer cells, and stem cell transplants for blood cancers and cancer in the lymph nodes.


Accessing Healthcare Services


Addressing Barriers To Accessing Healthcare in Rural Communities

Programs like ours provide access to healthcare services you may not be familiar with. Navigating cancer diagnosis and treatment can feel especially scary if you have a barrier to healthcare, such as a lack of transportation, language barriers, lack of health insurance coverage, uncertainty around what specialists or physicians to see, etc. We want to help you navigate through these difficult times.


Rural areas like ours in Hardee and DeSoto Counties limit our access to care. Because we know what options are available, we are a helpful resource to lean on. If you could use assistance with setting up screenings, getting appointments with the proper specialists and physicians, or have questions regarding cancer diagnosis and treatments, contact us today! Our Community Health Workers are standing by!

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