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Health Report: Cancer awareness warning signs and preventative measures

Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 4:09 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - With Cancer Awareness Day on February 4th, there are warning signs and preventative measures one can take to mitigate the risk of cancer.

While there are several kinds of cancers, four are the most common for humans to develop. Dr. Essam Shihadeh, Radiation Oncologist with Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, told us, “These cancers include breast, prostate, lung, colon, and rectum. They all have guidelines for screening procedures. Breast cancer, you know, mammograms have an age criteria on when to start doing mammograms for women. Prostate, as well, has the PSA and that’s a screening tool using the blood test. For lung cancer, it’s become standard care now for the last five years to do the low dose CT scan; and for the rectum and colon, the colonoscopy is very established with that. These are the top four cancers for humans, and each one of them has a good screening tool.”

Some people can be genetically predisposed to getting cancer and should be screened early. “If you have somebody who has a strong family list of cancer, like women who have had breast cancer in their aunts, in their mom, and their grandma... or ovarian cancer, certain kinds of cancer, it points out that the patient has to be checked at an early age. That’s for possible genetic mutation,” commented Dr. Shihadeh.

Each of these cancers has a test which can be covered with insurance. But there are some warning signs for those without insurance. “If the patient has a health care provider that would be a good way to follow. If the patient doesn’t have anybody, if he’s on his own or doesn’t like to go see doctors, then anything that is unexplained or persistent like loss of weight, loss of appetite, excessive fatigue, start coughing blood, or passing blood in the stool - all of these are warning signs for [a] possible process of cancer,” said Dr. Shihadeh.

Each cancer has its prevalence in certain age groups, and for that reason the screening tools and the screening procedures available are all geared towards those age groups. “Breast cancer becomes significant after the age of 40, so anyone who’s young and healthy, she doesn’t have to worry till 40 to 45 years of age. Then she has to start doing her mammograms. And if she had predisposition from family history from her mom and her sisters, she can start at an earlier age in her 30s. The PSA [for prostate cancer] as old as about 50, and that has been debatable; it goes back and forth. But you know I think about 50 is a good time. The low dose screening for lung cancer is established by how many years of smoking you’ve already smoked and the amount you’ve smoked,” explained Dr. Shihadeh.

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