EXPERT VOICES

Timely insight on cancer topics from the experts of the American Cancer Society

American Cancer Society Expert Voices

The American Cancer Society

Does being obese cause colon cancer?

March 13, 2013

By Durado Brooks, MD, MPH


Suppose that, during your next doctor's visit, you look at your medical record and your doctor has written "53- year-old diabetic white female, here today for a check-up." Would you be bothered by that description? Probably not. Your doctor is just discussing your medical condition, right? But what if, instead of "diabetic" the note read "53-year-old obese white female?" How would you feel now? Hurt? Angry? Sad? Would you think, "Why is my doctor being so mean?"

For many, the term "obese" brings to mind a massively overweight individual (like "Fat Albert" in the old Saturday morning cartoons). In reality most obese people don't look like Albert.

Obesity is a medical term

Obesity is actually a precise medical term that is based on a measure of body fat called the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is calculated from a person's height and weight. In general, a higher BMI indicates a higher amount of body fat. Adults with a BMI between 18 and 25 are in the "healthy" body fat/weight category. People with a BMI between 25 and 30 are considered overweight, and a BMI greater than 30 signifies obesity. Many people who view themselves as having a "normal weight" (or at most "pleasingly plump") are shocked when they do this calculation and realize that 180 pounds on their 5 feet 6 inch frame means they are medically obese.  

Our obsession with body image creates an emotional context for obesity that doesn't exist for most other medical issues. But make no mistake about it - obesity is a medical condition, and like other medical problems it has important long-term implications for health and well-being.  More...

Filed Under:

Colon Cancer | Durado Brooks

The obesity-cancer connection, and what we can do about it

February 28, 2013

By Lewis E. Foxhall, MD

It's almost impossible to get through the holiday season without gaining a few pounds, and for many of us that means we are even more likely to be over our ideal body weight.  Sure, we all want to look good in our clothes, but being obese is not just a condition that affects our appearance.  And in March, during National Nutrition Month, it's a good chance to talk about it.

Weight gain happens when we take in more calories from food (energy) than we use up through our basic biological requirements and exercise. After a while, enough fat stores up and makes us obese. Our bodies are very efficient at taking in energy and storing it for times when it is hard to find, but in our modern environment this is working against us and our health.  For most of us it is easy to get as much food as we want, and most of us do not need to exert ourselves much for work or daily living activities.


Link between obesity and cancer


The problem with being overweight or obese, as measured by weight and height, is that it raises our risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  But did you know that being obese can actually increase our risk of getting cancer and may even worsen our chances of surviving after a cancer diagnosis?  In fact, the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II showed significant increases in cancer occurrence in people who are the most overweight.  This link is stronger in some cancer types --including breast cancer after menopause, and cancers of the colon and rectum, pancreas, kidney, esophagus, and endometrium -- and can be associated with a major increase in risk. More...

Is proton beam therapy for prostate cancer worth the cost?

February 20, 2013

By Durado Brooks, MD, MPH


Thousands of men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each month. These men and their loved ones often turn to the internet to learn about their disease and treatment options, and these searches may lead to medical centers offering proton beam therapy.  These centers espouse the benefits of this treatment approach, and some include glowing testimonials from men who have undergone the treatment.

So is proton therapy the "magic bullet" for prostate cancer? 

 

The difference between proton therapy and traditional radiation

Proton therapy is a type of radiation treatment. Traditional radiation therapy has been used to treat cancers for a century using radioactive energy rays called "photons."  When radiation is directed at a cancerous tumor inside the body the rays must pass through normal, healthy tissue in order to reach the cancer cells. In doing so, photons often cause harm to these healthy cells in their quest to get to the tumor. 

In the case of prostate cancer, the radiation beams must pass through the skin, the bladder and the rectum on the way to the prostate gland, and once they reach the gland they encounter normal prostate cells and the nerves that control penile erections.  Damage to these tissues can lead to the complications that often accompany radiation treatment for prostate cancer, including bladder problems, rectal leakage or bleeding, and difficulty with erections.

Proton therapy is a new way to deliver radiation to tumors using tiny, sub-atomic particles (protons) instead of the photons used in conventional radiation treatment. Proton therapy uses new technology to accelerate atoms to 93,000 miles per second, separating the protons from the atom. While moving at this high-speed, the particles are "fired" at the patient's tumor. These charged particles deliver a very high dose of radiation to the cancer but release very little radiation to the normal tissue in their path.  In theory, this approach minimizes damage to healthy organs and structures surrounding the cancer.  More...

Cancer Statistics about African Americans Released

February 04, 2013

By Carol DeSantis, MPH

 

In conjunction with Black History Month, the American Cancer Society has released Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans, statistics published every 2 years. The 2013 issue reveals encouraging cancer trends for African Americans, as well as areas where significant disparities remain or are growing. Cancer disparities, or health inequity, are caused by a number of societal problems that result in greater suffering and more people dying from cancer.

 

Death rates drop, but inequity remains

The great news is that overall cancer death rates have steadily decreased for African American men and women. In fact, the most recent data show that death rates dropped faster for African American men than men in any other racial or ethnic group. That's caused the disparity in cancer death rates between African American and white men to shrink considerably. Cancer death rates among African American women are declining at a similar rate as those of white women. 

Despite these declines, however, death rates for all cancers combined remain 33% higher in black men and 16% higher in black women, compared to white men and women. African American men also have higher death rates for most of the major cancer sites (including lung, prostate, colon/rectum, liver, pancreas, and others). Notably, the higher overall cancer death rate in African American women compared to white women occurs despite lower incidence rates for all cancers combined and for breast and lung cancer.

For African American men, the drop in cancer death rates is mostly due to decreases in lung cancer; other smoking-related cancers like oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, and kidney; and prostate cancer. Remarkably, the disparity in lung cancer death rates among black and white men has been cut in half for men overall, and has been eliminated in younger adults (ages 20-39). This progress is mostly due to the fact that more African American men are quitting smoking, compared to white men. Although African American men have historically higher smoking rates compared to white men, over the last decade smoking rates have become more similar. In addition, smoking rates are lower among African American than white high school students. It is believed that if current smoking trends persist, racial differences in lung cancer death rates will be eliminated in the next 40 to 50 years. More...

Filed Under:

Breaking News | Disparities

Cervical Cancer is an International Issue

January 30, 2013

By Debbie Saslow, PhD

A lot has happened in the area of cervical cancer this past year. The American Cancer Society, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all released virtually identical screening guidelines, leading to less confusion and higher acceptance from health care professionals and the public.

Thanks to screening, cervical cancer is not very common in the U.S., with about 12,340 new cases of invasive cervical cancer expected to be diagnosed in 2013. Unfortunately the same is not true around the world, where more than half a million women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.  It is actually the 2nd largest cancer killer among women in most low- and middle-income countries.

Sadly, this disease threatens to undermine the important gains worldwide that have been made in sexual and reproductive health, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDs and other infectious diseases. For women in many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, cervical cancer is often detected late, when there is little hope for successful treatment. And it can be devastating to the whole family, both emotionally and financially.

The good news is that a lot has been happening in global cervical cancer.  Indeed, many underserved societies have been actively advocating for improved cervical cancer control policies. In response, governments are increasingly making the HPV vaccine available through their health systems and are supporting new cervical cancer screening methods appropriate for their needs and resources. More...

Unlocking the Mysteries of Metastasis

January 23, 2013

By Charles (Karl) Saxe, PhD

Something patients do not want to hear and physicians do not want to say is "your cancer has metastasized."

Metastasis is the process whereby cancer cells spread from the site of the original tumor to one or more other places in the body. And with upwards of 90% of all cancer suffering and death associated with metastasis, it is the single most significant challenge to management of the disease.

It's no wonder, then, that a major goal of cancer research is to understand what causes metastasis and how it happens. More...

Filed Under:

Promising Research

Weighing the Benefits and Risks of Lung Cancer Screening

January 11, 2013

By Otis W. Brawley, MD, FACP

 

This week the American Cancer Society announces its lung cancer screening guidelines. In short, we recommend that health care professionals with access to high-quality lung cancer screening and treatment centers should discuss screening with healthy patients aged 55 years to 74 years who have at least a 30-year history of pack-a-day cigarette smoking and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. The health care professional and patient should discuss all the known benefits and known harms associated with lung cancer screening.

These guidelines were developed after a meticulous process in which a group of cancer screening and treatment experts reviewed all the major lung cancer screening studies that have been published over the past several decades.  More...

Filed Under:

Lung Cancer | Otis W. Brawley

Light smoking as risky as a pack a day?

January 02, 2013

By J. Lee Westmaas, PhD


Do you occasionally have a cigarette, maybe not even every day? Although people resolve to quit smoking in the new year, you might think only heavy smokers need to quit. But that isn't the case.

Light or intermittent smoking has become a very common pattern for people of any age.  Many of these people do not feel addicted to tobacco and do not even call themselves "smokers." There are, however, some real risks associated with any level of smoking. Non-daily smoking, or smoking 1-5 cigarettes a day, was first noticed as far back as 1989 because it was a stark contrast to the more common pattern at that time -- 20 to 30 cigarettes a day. At that time, very light smokers were labeled "chippers" (a term that also referred to occasional users of opiates who appeared to not be addicted). Chippers didn't appear to smoke to relieve withdrawal, and sometimes didn't smoke for a day or more. More...

Caregivers, Say Yes to the Holidays

December 12, 2012

By Joleen Specht, CHP


The holidays are coming, the holidays are coming! For many the response may be an "Aaaah" (soft, warm sigh). For caregivers, however, "AAAAAHHHHH!"(loud, shrill scream) may more closely resemble the initial response. Caring for a loved one during the holidays can bring to the surface so many different emotions. Some people wear themselves out trying to do everything, and others wish to skip the holidays altogether. 

It's okay to long for memories of holidays past, when things seemed easier. Although, if we are honest with ourselves, those warm, fuzzy memories are likely skewed. Let's face it; no matter your lot in life, the "perfect" holiday exists only in Norman Rockwell paintings. The warmth of a cozy fire in the fireplace and the smell of cinnamon apple cider may have been a reality in the past, but as a caregiver of a loved one with a serious illness, your holiday may exist in a new reality. 

This doesn't mean all is lost. Holiday joy doesn't have to depend on doing everything the same way it has always been. It's okay to make some changes. Start small, start simple. Here are some ways to make this holiday one to remember: More...

Filed Under:

Caregiving

Holiday Eating Tips If You're in Cancer Treatment

December 03, 2012

By Michele Szafranski, MS, RD, CSO, LDN

 

We all have wonderful food memories associated with the holidays. Maybe it is a favorite dish made by a loved one or a special memory of decorating cookies with your grandchildren. But during cancer treatment, visions of sugar plums may bring anxiety. When you are having trouble eating or keeping food down, the thought of holiday gatherings and meals can fill you with dread. There are a few things to keep in mind that might be help you get through these occasions with reduced stress.


Celebrating doesn't have to be stressful

What can you do to make a holiday gathering less stressful? First, don't be afraid to tell people you aren't up to your usual celebration. Delegate if you are hosting the party. People always want to know what they can do, so give them specific dishes or tasks to take some of the pressure off.  If you have a dish you are known for, focus your energy on that one dish and let others take care of the rest. If you aren't up to cooking, pass the beloved recipe to a friend or loved one for them to try.  Offer to bring drinks, paper goods, or the centerpiece for the holiday table. To avoid the hassle of a big entrance, arrive early and find a quiet spot to sit if you need to escape from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen.

When it comes to the food, here are tips to help you find what and how much you can eat: More...

Filed Under:

Caregiving | Survivorship

About the Blog

Expert Voices will give you more than the statistics: it will give you insight. More