Published: September 12, 2013
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The month of September is the designated awareness month for several different specific types of cancer including ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer and leukemia and lymphoma. Prostate cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer in northeast Pennsylvania and ovarian cancer has a statistically significant higher incidence and mortality rate in northeast Pennsylvania than in the United States as a whole.
Prostate cancer occurs when an abnormal growth of cells forms in the prostate, a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system. Many men who develop prostate cancer have no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include urination problems, such as blood in urine, frequent need to urinate, weak or interrupted flow, pain or burning or not being able to urinate; or constant pain in lower back, hips or upper thighs.
Compounding the effect of the frequent lack of symptoms for prostate cancer is the fact that there is also debate in the medical community as to whether available screening methods for the disease saves lives. Some prostate cancers grow so slowly that they never become a serious threat to the patient's health. Unfortunately, screening cannot distinguish this type of cancer from the more dangerous kind and potentially unnecessary treatments may decrease the patient's quality of life. Most organizations currently recommend that men talk with their doctors about the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening and then make their own informed decision.
In addition to discussing prostate cancer screening with a doctor, men should know that they may be at greater risk for the disease based on several factors. These factors include age; family history of prostate cancer and race as the disease occurs more frequently in African Americans. While there is no certain way to prevent prostate cancer, maintaining overall good health through a healthy diet, exercise and regular checkups can help to decrease risk.
Unlike prostate cancer, which is often detected at an early stage, ovarian cancer is most often at an advanced stage when diagnosed. This is because early cancers of the ovary cause no symptoms or only vague symptoms and there is no reliable screening test for this cancer. The ovaries are glands that are part of the female reproductive system. Ovarian cancer occurs when an abnormal growth of cells occurs in the ovary tissue. It is very easy to miss the symptoms of ovarian cancer due to the fact that many women experience similiar symptoms on a regular basis. These symptoms include abdominal discomfort or swelling, gas, nausea, indigestion, weight change, frequent urination or changes in bowel habits. Women are encouraged to know what is normal for their bodies and when a significant and sustained change is noticed to bring it to the attention of a doctor.
While all women should be on the alert for changes related to the symptoms listed above, those who may be at increased risk for the disease include those with a family history or hereditary predisposition of ovarian, colon or breast cancer; women who have never been pregnant or who are infertile and women over age 50. As with all types of cancer, a healthy diet, exercise, regular check-ups and the avoidance of tobacco use can improve general health and decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Cancer awareness months serve as a useful reminder that is important to educate oneself about cancer prevention and screening.
The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is a nonprofit, community-based agency working to ease the burden of cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Focusing on community and patient services, hospital and practice support services and survivorship, 100 percent of cancer institute resources are invested in this region. For more information about the cancer institute, visit www.cancernepa.org or call (800) 424-6724.