Lunch and Learn Seminar addresses cancer awareness, screenings

October 12, 2012

Dr. Ellen Walthall was the speaker for the "Catch it on the Screen" event at the Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital Lunch and Learn Seminar on Wednesday, Oct.10 on early cancer detection. Photo by Melissa Winslow

Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital hosted another Lunch and Learn Seminar on Wednesday, October 10 on early cancer detection. Dr. Ellen Walthall was the speaker for the "Catch it on the Screen" event.
Dr. Walthall opened the seminar by answering familiar questions regarding screenings. Screenings allow for a patient to learn if they do or do not have a particular cancer; by catching it earlier, the possibilities of treating and curing the disease are better.
Some people tend to discount early detection screenings due to the cost, discomfort, embarrassment or a combination of all three factors, but Dr. Walthall emphasized the fact that a patient's life is at stake and should outweigh the factors. She compared the idea that, just like a person should not forgo having a car checked out, a person should do the same with his body.
Various types of screenings were discussed, with several statistics were given for each testing as well. Dr. Walthall urged everyone in attendance to be proactive and responsible for their healthcare.
Pap Smear: In a pap smear screening, Dr. Walthall explained that cells from within the cervix are obtained and tested to determine if a biopsy or other procedures should be done. Women should start testing around the age of 21 and should have an exam before getting married, with tests taking place every two years.
However, for women who have had a hysterectomy or are in menopause, every three years will suffice. These tests can check for vaginal cancer as well as HPV (human papillomavirus), which can also affect men along with women.
With pap smear screenings, since 1950, a decrease of 70% of cervical cancer deaths has been recorded. However, 50% of women who were found to have cervical cancer never had a pap smear done; 10% of women were not tested in the past five years.
Breast Cancer: Women should become comfortable in doing self-checks and take action should any kind of hard, marble-like lumps be found. The earlier the self-exams begin--along with screenings, which are worth the financial investment--the better it will be to treat.
Self-exams should begin monthly for women under 40 years old, with a doctor's exam should take place every three years. Mammograms should begin at the age of 40 if there is a strong family history, with testing every two years up to age 50.
Thereafter, from ages 50 to 74, annual tests should take place. In women under 50 who underwent a mammogram, there was a 17% decrease in breast cancer deaths; women from 50 to 74 saw a 30% decrease.
Dr. Walthall also stated that a majority of cancers, however, are sporadic with no family history. But after the age of 74, she pointed out that there is insufficient evidence to mandate a mammogram.
In 90% of mammograms, a negative reading is found, but it makes an impact on the other 10% whose lives can be saved. Ten percent of women who get a mammogram require a second study, which could also include an ultrasound.
Prostate Cancer: Outside of skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in men. PSA (prostate-specific antigen) tests can be done to get a better look for a diagnosis.
It used to be that men in their 70s were being diagnosed with the cancer, but now men in their fifties are coming up with prostate cancer. While it can be an embarrassing procedure, it must be done to help the patient.
PSA tests and digital rectal exams should be done starting at age 50. African-American men are at higher risk, and should have a test done in their 40s, along with men with a family history.
Since the 1990s, the number of prostate cancer deaths has dropped by one percent each year. Signs that may indicate prostate cancer are urine retention, back and leg pain or blood in the urine.
However, in 47% of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer, they show no symptoms.
Colon Cancer: Most people will typically determine the status of their colon health by past experiences, but Dr. Walthall stated that a doctor should do an examination due to the fact that a person cannot see what is going on in the area.
While there are some risks with this--as well as with any other test, the chances of complications are less than one percent. The procedure take around 30-45 minutes and the patient is sedated.
A fecal occult blood (FOB) test can also check for colon cancer, but both tests should start at age 50. By having the FOB test, a decrease has been seen in 33% of colon cancer deaths.
Other means of testing are the insertion of a small camera--which can possibly cause constipation, or a capsule that can be swallowed. However, a colonoscopy would still be needed for testing.
Screenings for colon cancer should stop when life expectancy is less than ten years. However, if no polyps are found, testing can take place every five to ten years. If glandular polyps are found, a test should take place every four years.
Patients with increased risks that should undergo early testing would be someone with polyps found or with family history. Some patients discount a bad case of hemorrhoids as simply that, but Dr. Walthall urged attendees to take a closer look in prolonged cases.
Ovarian Cancer: Because ovarian cancer is found in the breast cancer gene, it can sometimes be hard to check. An intravaginal ultrasound can determine the possibility, or another procedure where the doctor personally checks the area.
While this procedure is unpleasant, it should be done to learn if a patient has the disease.
Dr. Walthall also discussed other factors that can contribute to poor health, such as high blood pressure and excessive body weight.
High blood pressure, classified as anything over the 120/80 rate, literally tears up the heart and can lead to congestive heart failure, stroke or even death. Almost 95% of people with high blood pressure do not know why they have it; walking daily can assist in bringing the number down.
Also resulting from high blood pressure can be peripheral vascular disease, in which smoking--which Dr. Walthall called an expensive habit--can also be a contributing factor.
Being overweight, which is classified as having a body mass index (BMI) over 24%, can play a factor into a number of health issues, such as stroke, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and death.
Today, 30% of Americans are considered obese--having a BMI over 40%, with 30% of Americans being overweight and only 3% considered close to normal. A person is considered morbidly obese if their BMI is over 40%; a super obese person has a BMI over 50%.
Dr. Walthall said that people need to get out more and move, finding other ways to entertain themselves. Due to the lack of mobility, type 2 diabetes in children has skyrocketed.
Other ways to take charge of a person's health, the doctor said, also includes having the necessary immunizations.
A brief Q&A was held, noting that a good PSA score ranges from two and a half to four. Women over 70 should get a mammogram every two years with a potential cutoff age of 80, though family history should still be considered.
After the seminar, door prizes were awarded to some attendees, and free prostate cancer screenings and colorectal cancer screening kits were also made available.

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