EXPERT VOICES

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

American Cancer Society Expert Voices

The American Cancer Society

Prevention & Early Detection (31 posts)  RSS

Mom, Dad, Let's Talk about Colon Cancer

March 21, 2012

By Durado Brooks, MD

 

How often do you think a family conversation about cancer occurs? The truth is, not nearly often enough.


Colorectal cancer (often called simply "colon cancer") is cancer that develops in the colon or the rectum, and it's the third most common cancer in the U.S.  While most people diagnosed with colon cancer do not have a family history the disease, people who have this cancer in their family have a significantly higher chance of being diagnosed.  The good news is that colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, and this prevention can work even for people who are at high risk of the disease. More...

Is a Pap test necessary every year?

March 14, 2012

By Debbie Saslow, PhD


When it comes to screening for cancer, a common belief held by doctors as well as patients is "more is better." It seems only logical that more frequent screening with the newest technologies translates to more cancers detected at the earliest possible time and, ultimately, more lives saved.


Cervical cancer is an example of why this is not necessarily so. Dating back to the late 1940s, the Pap test has been detecting not only early cervical cancers, but changes in the cervix ("pre-cancers") that when treated or removed lead to actual prevention of cancer in addition to early detection. For decades, the majority of women in this country have scheduled their doctor appointments around their "annual Pap."  As a result of widespread Pap testing, mortality rates dropped by 70% and the Pap test became the biggest success story for cancer screening in history.


In the late 1980s, it was discovered that cervical cancer is caused by HPV, the human papilloma virus. Studies of the natural history of HPV and cervical cancer showed that it takes, on average, 10-20 years from the time a woman is first infected with HPV until the time a cervical cancer might appear.


In 1987, the American Cancer Society, and several other national organizations, recommended that most women could safely be screened for cervical cancer with the Pap test every 3 years rather than every year. Twenty-five years later, studies show that the majority of health care providers still recommend annual screenings and that the majority of women expect annual screenings. More...

Viruses, Bacteria, and Cancer, or It’s Not All Smoke and Sunlight

March 04, 2012

By William C. Phelps, PhD


How did you feel the last time someone sneezed in the elevator? Whether it is the common cold or the seasonal flu, we know some illnesses are caused by infections with viruses or bacteria. But what if cancer could be caused by an infection?


Some cancers caused by viruses and bacteria


Although it is not widely realized, 15%-20% of cancers around the world are caused by infectious agents - viruses or bacteria. Fortunately for all of us, the infectious agents linked to cancer are not easily spread from person to person like the common cold virus. It turns out, even when many of these viruses and bacteria infect people, only a small subset will go on to develop cancer. In most cases, we still do not understand why certain people develop cancer and others do not - even though they were also infected. More...

Heart Healthy Foods Your Whole Body Will Love

February 09, 2012

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

 

Love is in the air - and not just because Valentine's Day is right around the corner. It's also National Heart Month - a time to show our hearts a little love, and do what we can to reduce our risk heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.


Fortunately, there are things we can put in our cereal bowls, lunch boxes and dinner plates every day that can help reduce our own risk for developing heart disease. Not only that, a lot of these things can also be part of a healthy diet that can also reduce your risk of developing a variety of types of cancer. A two-for-one! Now who wouldn't love that? More...

ACS Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines Evolve

January 10, 2012

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD


Today, the American Cancer Society released its 2012 Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity Cancer Prevention. Based on sound science and strong evidence, our best advice to the general public to help reduce their risk of cancer through nutrition and physical activity is to:

  • achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life
  • adopt a physically active lifestyle
  • consume a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods
  • limit consumption if you drink alcoholic beverages


As a matter of fact, for the majority of us who don't smoke, these are the most important ways to reduce cancer risk. More...

Breast Cancer Genetics: Is Testing an Option?

December 06, 2011

By Mia M. Gaudet, PhD


Certain types of cancer often seem to run in families. Sometimes, it's because families share certain risk factors (like smoking) that can cause cancer. Other times, though, there is an inherited link - a slight difference in the genetic code that is passed down from generation to generation.

 

Only about 5% - 10% of all cancers are inherited. It's an important area of research because identifying genetic causes of cancer could help us understand who might need to be screened for a certain type of cancer more often, or take other steps to protect themselves from this disease. This is the first blog in a series where we'll explore what researchers have learned about some of the cancers that have a strong genetic link, and who might be candidates for genetic counseling and testing. Today we'll focus on breast cancer. More...

Jump on the 'bran wagon' for better health

November 03, 2011

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD


It may be time to jump on the "bran wagon," if you're not already on it.

 

In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers report that eating a high fiber diet reduces the risk of dying at an early age from a variety of causes, including heart disease, respiratory and infectious diseases, and among men, cancer.

 

During a 9-year study looking at diet and health, more than half a million AARP members between the ages of 50 and 71 completed a survey about their eating habits. Those who reported eating the most fiber (about 30 grams a day for men, and 26 grams a day for women) were 22% less likely to die from any cause during the study compared to those consuming the least amount (about 13 grams for men and 11 grams for women). More...

Get Past the Yuck to Help Save Lives

September 26, 2011

By Durado Brooks, MD


Has your doctor ever talked to you about collecting part of your bowel movement to be examined (referred to as a "stool test")?  If you're anything like the patients I've treated, you recoiled in shock and horror!  The idea just sounds disgusting, doesn't it?  Without getting too technical, stool tests have what we doctors call a high YUCK factor. (No, it's not an acronym; it's what patients say when we ask them to do the test: "Are you kidding, doc?  Yuck!") 


But stool tests are one of the tried and true approaches to finding colorectal (colon) cancer early and saving lives.  There are a number of different tests for colon cancer that are recommended by the American Cancer Society and other organizations, including colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and CT colonography (a special type of x-ray test, sometimes called "virtual colonoscopy").  But the fact is, out of all the tests that are recommended for colon cancer screening, stool tests actually have the strongest evidence that they save lives - a fact that most patients (and many doctors) don't appreciate.  More...

Ovarian Cancer: Do Screening Tests Work?

September 01, 2011

By Debbie Saslow, PhD


For years, patients, doctors, and researchers have been trying to find a way to catch ovarian cancer early, when it's most treatable. For women, the chance of getting ovarian cancer is about 1 in 70.  In most cases, the cancer is found at an advanced stage and survival is, sadly, quite low.


Most women get tested regularly for breast cancer and cervical cancer, and hopefully colorectal (colon) cancer. Why aren't they checked for ovarian cancer, too?  Unfortunately we don't have tests like mammograms or Pap tests for the ovaries. Doctors often do a pelvic exam, which includes checking the ovaries, but this exam rarely finds ovarian tumors unless they have grown very large.


Some other tests, like the CA-125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound, have been studied to see if they can be used to test for ovarian cancer, but none have proven to be accurate enough to consistently find cancer. More...

Will a vitamin a day keep cancer away?

August 16, 2011

By Marji McCullough, ScD, RD

 

Editor's note: Dr. McCullough added the following statement 12/20/13 in response to new studies being released:

Recent findings on multivitamin supplements published after the posting of this blog deserve mention. In 2012, the results of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of a daily multivitamin supplement were published, showing a small but statistically significant lower risk of all cancers combined in male physicians followed over 11 years.  The supplement included 30 nutrients at levels similar to that found in a regular diet in the United States (≤100% recommended daily allowance (RDA)).  The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently updated their review of vitamin and mineral supplements for the primary prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD) and found there isn't much evidence that multivitamins or supplements help prevent cancer or CVD. But they add that a small benefit from multivitamin supplements on cancer in men was found, based on this study and an earlier RCT in France. The study in France found lower rates of cancer in men, but not women. The authors speculate that this may have been due to worse nutritional status - a generally less nutritious diet in the men - but more research is needed. In the study with the male physicians mentioned above, they all were well nourished but still saw some benefit.

There are still questions to answer about multivitamins and cancer from the RCTs: why only in men? Does whether you have a nutritious diet matter, and to what degree? Are these findings able to be replicated? Longer follow-up from these trials (to see long term effects) may provide more clues. In the meantime, these studies show that lower-dose multivitamins (with ≤100% RDA) appear safe and don't raise risk of cancer or CVD. Still, the best way to get nutrients is through a healthy diet, and the cost of multivitamins can add up. People should discuss the pros and cons of supplement use with their health care professional.

 

Original blog, 8/16/2011


Can popping vitamin pills prevent cancer? The simple answer is no, based on what we know so far. In fact, some vitamin supplements have even shown harm. What I'm talking about mostly are pills containing individual nutrients in amounts that are greater than that found in food. Before you stop reading, thinking this is simply another "just eat your vegetables" message, let me give you a little history.


Toward the end of the last century, scientists observed that people with healthy diets, and with higher levels of certain phytochemicals ("phyto" for plant) in their bloodstream, such as beta-carotene, had lower rates of cancer. But observations don't prove cause and effect.


So, after careful evaluation of promising dietary compounds, the scientists began planning randomized, placebo controlled clinical trials ("RCTs") with tens of thousands of healthy people to see if taking supplements of individual phytochemicals could actually prevent cancer. RCTs are considered by most to be the gold standard for proving something works. Most of the supplements tested were antioxidants, which are chemical compounds that combat "free radicals" in the body that can damage DNA and possibly lead to cancer. More...

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