Claremore Daily Progress

Columnists

October 25, 2010

Progress staffer reflects on impact of cancer

CLAREMORE — As sharp-eyed readers — or at least those who don’t suffer from color-blindness — have noticed by now, the special insert printed on pink paper in recognition of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Now celebrating 25 years, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual health campaign which increases awareness of breast cancer, and raises money for research, prevention, and cures for one of the most common forms of cancer among women.

Additionally, the campaign offers information and support to those directly, and indirectly, affected by breast cancer.

As critical as awareness of breast cancer is to women (and men) and their families, it is sadly only one of many cancers which can impact the lives of its victims.

That said, I would take pause during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to briefly mention some of other kinds of cancer — some of them lesser known, but none of them any less devastating to the lives the interrupt in their wake.

In addition to breast cancer, the most common kinds of cancer are those of the colon, lungs, and prostate.

Statistically speaking, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women, with an estimated 131,000 Americans diagnosed with it each year, and some 55,000 die as a result of it.

Certain genetic factors play a role in the development of this cancer. The specific cause of Colorectal cancer is unknown, however, environmental, genetic, familial factors and preexisting Ulcerative Colitis have been linked to the development of this cancer. It is more common among African-Americans.

Risk factors for colon cancer include age (those among most diagnosed for colon cancer are patients between 60 and 65 years old), diet (high fat and low fiber diets have proven to contribute to the likelihood of colorectal cancers), and certain genetic and family history factors.

Certain familial conditions, such as familial polyposis, is associated with a much higher risk.

The second most common malignancy affecting both sexes is lung cancer.

Roughly 180,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer ever year., and it’s considered to be the most rapidly increasing cause of death from cancer.

Since 1987, lung cancer has been the leading cause of cancer death in women, surpassing breast cancer, and while lung cancer incidence has leveled off among men, it continues to rise steadily among women.

The average age of patients with lung cancer is 60 years, and it has been found to be more common in African-Americans and Hawaiians.

Contributors factors to the development of this disease are radon exposure, and asbestos, but not surprisingly, cigarette smoking is the number one cause of this disease, exponentially increasing one’s likelihood of developing the disease.

Even passive inhalation of the smoke increases the chance of developing this illness (thanks, mom and dad).

Among American men, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer, with roughly 185,000 men diagnosed annually, and claiming 39,000 men dying from it.

Risk of developing this cancer increases with age and it is more common in men over ages 60-65. Lifetime risk of developing this cancer is about 16-20 percent, or about one in six.

It is estimated that 40 percent of men over the age of 50 have microscopic areas of cancer in their prostate gland, but only eight percent of men will develop clinically significant disease and only 3 percent will die of this disease.

While the cause of prostate cancer is unknown risk factors attributed to the increased risk of its development include increasing age, race (as prostate cancer is statistically higher in African-American men), family history, high dietary fat, and genetic factors.

But these are just the tip of the iceburg.

Cancers abound throughout the body’s systems, with known cancers of the blood and lymphatic systems (such as Hodgkin’s Disease, leukemia, lyphomas), skin cancer, cancers of the digestive system (such as esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer), urinary system cancers (such as bladder and kidney cancer), other cancers in women (such as ovarian cancer), and a list far too extensive to detail here.

Here’s the thing:

October comes and October goes, but breast — and other — cancers permanently mark the lives of those it touches.

My own father passed away more than 20 years ago from liver cancer — an ironic, but no less tragic disease for him as he was a chronic smoker for more than 40 years. Were I a betting man, I would have figured him to have gotten lung cancer instead, but it just goes to show that cancer doesn’t discriminate — it strikes the young and the old, the wealthy and the needy, men and women, and — much like the radical cells it spawns — it can strike randomly and in ways we would never expect.

We may not come to know the cures for all, or any, of these cancers in our lifetime, nor may our children.

But educating ourselves about them can help minimize the chances they might develop, and at least improve our chances to live long enough for us to get that much closer.

And that is certainly something worth sticking around to see. 

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