Blog Posts

Pondering Prostate Cancer

November 26th, 2018

In October, we got an education on breast cancer. Now, in November, it’s time to take a look at the second most common cancer affecting American men, behind skin cancer: prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates there’ll be close to 164,690 new cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in the US in 2018, and more than 29,000 deaths.

ACS also says about one man in nine will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and about one in 41 will die from it. In fact, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in American men, trailing only lung cancer. The good news is that more than 2.9 million men in the US who’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today.

The prostate is part of the male reproductive system. It’s a gland that produces some of the fluid in semen that nourishes and transports sperm. It also contracts and forces this fluid out through the penis during orgasm.

The prostate sits below the urinary bladder and in front of the rectum. The urethra, the tube that carries urine and semen out of the body through the penis, runs through the middle of the prostate, so the prostate also plays a role in urine control in men.

Prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate gland start to grow out of control. If it’s diagnosed early, prostate cancer is very treatable. However, prostate cancer develops slowly, and there may be no symptoms in the early stages. Often, symptoms only become noticeable when your prostate has become large enough to affect function. Common symptoms include:

  • Frequent need to urinate, especially at night
  • Difficulty beginning or maintaining a urine stream
  • Painful urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection2

On the simplest level, prostate cancer is the result of changes in the DNA of normal prostate cells. These changes can be inherited or acquired during your lifetime. We don’t know exactly what causes the acquired DNA changes, but researchers have discovered some risk factors that may contribute.

Problems can happen anytime a prostate cell divides into two new cells because when it divides, it has to copy its DNA, and that’s an opportunity for errors to occur. The more often and quickly prostate cells divide and grow, the more chances for errors. Therefore, anything that speeds up the process of dividing cells increases the likelihood cancer will develop.

Androgens, or the male hormones such as testosterone, promote prostate cell growth. A higher level of androgens in your body might contribute to an increased risk for prostate cancer in some men. Other risk factors for prostate cancer include age, diet, race (it’s more common in African American men), geography (it’s more prevalent in developed nations) and chemical exposure.

Screening is a way to look for signs of a disease before symptoms appear. There are two common screening tests for prostate cancer, the digital rectal examination (DRE) and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. PSA is a protein excreted by the prostate that helps semen remain a fluid. An excess of this protein in the blood, however, is one of the initial signs of prostate cancer.

The ACS and other leading authorities recommend that men discus with their doctors the risks and benefits of these tests before choosing if, when and how often to have them done.

Your doctor will use these tests to help diagnose prostate cancer, along with a complete medical history and physical examination. If the test results are abnormal, your doctor may order other tests such as a biomarker test, a PCA3 test and a transrectal ultrasound. He or she may recommend a biopsy to take samples of prostate tissue to look for cancer cells under a microscope.

If your cancer is in an early stage and is only in your prostate gland, your doctor may suggest watchful waiting or active surveillance. This approach involves carefully monitoring this slow-growing cancer without beginning active treatment.

Treatment for prostate cancer may include one or a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and vaccine therapy. Surgery involves removing the entire prostate gland and, if necessary, some nearby lymph nodes. Surgery can be performed using an open or laparoscopic technique.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or particles to kill prostate cancer cells. It can be accomplished by using an external machine with its beams aimed at your prostate gland or by placing radioactive seeds directly on your prostate.

Chemotherapy uses powerful medications given by mouth or through a vein to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs pass through the entire body, so they’re a good option when your prostate cancer has spread beyond your prostate to other areas of your body.

The aim of hormonal therapy is to reduce the level of male hormones in your body or stop those hormones from affecting the prostate cancer cells. Male hormones stimulate these cancer cells to grow, so hormonal therapy uses surgery or medications to stop the testicles from making these hormones.

Unlike vaccines for viral infections, which boost your body’s immune system to fight the infection, the prostate cancer vaccine charges up the immune system to fight prostate cancer cells. The vaccine hasn’t been shown to stop prostate cancer from progressing, but it has been shown to help men with this cancer live a little longer.

There’s more good news from the American Cancer Society. Prostate cancer is very survivable. ACS put together the relative survival rates of men with prostate cancer according to the most recent data and including all stages of the cancer. The results: The five-year relative survival rate is 99 percent. The ten-year relative survival rate is 98 percent, and the 15-year relative survival rate is 96 percent.

Men, don’t wait till you’re experiencing symptoms. Talk with your doctor and see of prostate cancer screening is right for you. It might catch a cancer when it’s most treatable and survivable.

COPD Uncovered

November 20th, 2018

Someone I know and love was a smoker for most of her life. A few years ago, after a very difficult struggle, she finally quit. Unfortunately, the years of smoking had already done some damage to her lungs, and now she’s suffering from COPD. The weirdest part is she doesn’t seem to understand how she got the disorder. She doesn’t get the connection.

She should have. In the United States, the single biggest cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. In fact, about 90 percent of those who have the disorder are smokers or former smokers. Among people who smoke, 20 percent to 30 percent of them develop COPD. Smoking’s not the only cause, just the most common.

Other causes of COPD include long-term exposure to lung irritants including air pollution and breathing in chemical fumes, dust or toxic substances at home or at work. In rare cases, COPD can be caused by a genetic mutation. Some people have a defect causing a deficiency in the protein alpha-1 antitrypsin, which protects the lungs from damage.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, actually refers to a group of progressive lung diseases that, over time, make it harder for you to breathe and perform your activities. The two most common diseases and those usually associated with COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Most people who have COPD have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, but the severity of each condition varies from person to person. Thus, the general term COPD is more accurate.

In its early stages, you may not notice the symptoms of COPD or may chalk up the changes to “getting older.” But catching COPD early is imperative to effective treatment and management, so contact your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent coughing, especially with a lot of mucus
  • Wheezing or noisy breathing
  • Difficulty breathing or increasing shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Fatigue
  • Bluish fingernails or lips

To diagnose COPD, your doctor will evaluate your symptoms, take your complete health and family history, perform a physical examination and review test results. The test most commonly used to diagnose COPD is spirometry, a simple test of how well your lungs work.

National Heart, Blood and lun institute

The image shows how spirometry is done. The patient takes a deep breath and blows as hard as possible into a tube connected to a spirometer. The spirometer measures the amount of air breathed out. It also measures how fast the air was blown out.

During a spirometry test, you blow air into a mouthpiece that is attached to a small machine. This machine then measures the amount of air you blow out as well as how fast you blow it. This test can find COPD in its earliest stages and can be used to determine how severe it is. Your doctor will likely use the spirometry results to guide his or her treatment planning.

Your doctor may also order other tests including a chest x-ray or chest CT or to more closely examine your lungs. These tests can also help rule out other disorders as the cause of your symptoms. Through a blood sample, an arterial blood gas test can show how well your lungs are moving oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide from it.

Because every person with COPD has different degrees of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, treatment is tailored to the patient’s unique situation. Treatment is designed to ease symptoms, prevent complications and slow disease progression. It may include medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, surgery, and lifestyle changes.

Medications called bronchodilators to help relax the muscles of the airway, which opens the airway so you can breathe easier. Sometimes, glucocorticosteroids, which help reduce inflammation, are added. These medications are generally inhaled through an inhaler or nebulizer. Your doctor may also recommend you get yearly flu and pneumonia shots to reduce your risk of getting those infections, which can harm your lungs.

If your oxygen level gets low, you may be prescribed oxygen therapy to improve that and help you breathe better. With this, you inhale fresh oxygen through prongs in your nose or a mask. Pulmonary rehabilitation may include an exercise program, disease management training, nutrition advice, and counseling. The goal is to help you stay active and able to perform your daily activities.

In severe cases of COPD, surgery may be needed when other treatments have failed. Surgery may be done to remove large air sacs from the lungs or to remove damaged lung tissue. As a final resort, lung transplantation may become necessary. During a transplant, your diseased lungs are removed and replaced with healthy lungs from a donor.

Lifestyle changes can help to both manage the symptoms of COPD you already have and prevent progression of the disease. The first thing you need to do is quit smoking if you do. There are tons of resources on the internet and in your community to help you do this. Also, take steps to protect yourself from exposure to secondhand smoke and chemical fumes.

There’s no specific diet recommended for people with COPD, but a healthy diet is important for maintaining overall health and strength. For your meals, chose a variety of nutritious vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and dairy. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids to help keep mucus on the thin side.

Ask your doctor about how much activity you should get and for suggestions for exercise that will be good for you. Maintain a healthy weight because being overweight makes your heart and lungs work harder.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimates that 12 million American adults currently have COPD and another 12 million are undiagnosed or are developing the disease. The World Health Organization chimes in with its estimate that 210 million people worldwide have COPD. They go further to say they expect total deaths to increase more than 30 percent in the next ten years.  COPD is already the third leading cause of death in the US.

COPD has no known cure, but treatments and lifestyle changes can help you manage the disease, slow its progression, and most importantly, feel better and remain more active. If you notice any of the symptoms of COPD, don’t wait. See your doctor and get treatment started as soon as possible.

Solutions for Your Skin

November 13th, 2018

Your skin is the largest organ of your body. If you’re an average adult, you’ve got about eight pounds and 22 square feet of it. Skin is active, living tissue, and each of its three layers have jobs to do to protect the body and keep it healthy.

The outermost layer of the skin is the epidermis. It provides a waterproof barrier against germs, toxins and pollutants. This layer contains the cells that form the rough exterior surface of the skin that continuously sloughs off and regenerates. It also contains cells that alert your immune system to any infectious invaders.

Just below the epidermis is the dermis. This layer contains tough connective tissue, as well as hair follicles and sweat glands. It also contains collagen and elastin, the fibers that give skin its strength and elasticity. Blood vessels found here regulate body temperature, and nerves pick up sensations and relay the information to the brain.

The third layer is called the subcutis. It is made mostly of fat and connective tissue. The reserves of fat stored in this layer act a cushion to help protect your bones and muscles from bumps, bruises and falls.

Your skin gets its color from specialized cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce the pigment melanin. People who live in sunny climates have more melanin than people who live in climates with less sun exposures, so their skin is darker. Melanocytes reside in the epidermis.

People in all climates need to keep their skin vibrant and healthy so it can continue to perform its many jobs for the body. That means we have to take good care of our skin. Good skin care doesn’t have to be a complex process. It can be broken down to a few simple steps. Here are some tips you can follow:

Protect you skin from the sun. Too much sun exposure can cause wrinkles, age spots and other skin problems, and it increases your risk for skin cancer. To protect yourself, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 30. Avoid the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s ray are strongest. Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a wide-brimmed hat.

 

Eat a healthful diet. What you eat is as important as what you put on your skin. Your diet can improve your skin’s health from the inside out, so healthy skin begins with a healthful diet. Foods that have been found through research to be skin-healthy include mangoes, tomatoes, kale and soy. Also, cutting your alcohol consumption could lower your risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer. Quitting smoking helps keep your skin healthy as well.

 

Keep your stress to a minimum. Scientists have identified some links between stress and some skin problems including itchy skin, scaly skin, hand rashes and flaky, oily or waxy patches on the scalp. If you’re struggling with stress and it’s affecting your skin, try stress reduction techniques such as tai chi, yoga or meditation.

 

 

Build a daily skin care routine. A daily routine can help you maintain overall skin health and improve specific concerns you may have, such as acne, scarring or dark spots. Start simply with a cleanser, serum, moisturizer and sunscreen. As you see how your skin reacts, you can add other products, such as an exfoliant, mask or spot treatment.

 

 

Keep your skin hydrated. Moisturizers revive the skin’s ability to repair and renew naturally. A good moisturizer will seal in moisture and keep the top layer of your skin hydrated. Choose one that has a humectant, which will attract moisture, an occlusive agent, which will retain moisture in the skin and an emollient, which will smooth out the spaces between the skin cells.

Take care of your skin so it can take care of you.

Diabetes and Your Eyes

November 4th, 2018

Do you have diabetes? If so, you’re certainly not alone. The American Diabetes Association estimates that 30.3 million Americans have diabetes and another 8.1 million have it but haven’t been diagnosed. Another 84.1 million people in the US have prediabetes, and nine out of ten aren’t aware of it. Still, 1.2 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in this country every year.

Maintaining healthy glucose (sugar) levels in your blood is a constant concern if you’ve got diabetes. Consistently high blood glucose can damage many parts of the body, such as the heart, kidneys and blood vessels. That includes the tiny blood vessels in the eyes, which can affect the retina, macula, lens and optic nerve.

When high glucose levels negatively affect the blood vessels in the retina, which is an area of light-sensitive tissue located in the back if the eye, it leads to a condition called diabetic retinopathy. There are two main types of retinopathy, nonproliferative and proliferative.

Nonproliferative retinopathy has several stages. It progresses from mild to moderate to severe. It starts as small areas of balloon-like swelling in the tiny blood vessels. These areas may start leaking fluid into the retina. In the moderate stage, the blood vessels that feed the retina may start swelling and distorting, losing their ability to transport blood.

In severe nonproliferative retinopathy, many blood vessels become blocked, which deprives the retina of its nourishing blood supply. Growth factors are also released during this stage. These factors initiate the development of new blood vessels.

Retinal Detachment

In some people, the severe stage progresses into proliferative retinopathy. With that, new blood vessels start growing, but these vessels are very fragile and weak. They can leak blood, which can block vision. Scar tissue can also be created, which can cause the retina to pull away from the back of the eye, a condition called retinal detachment.

Another consequence of retinopathy is macular edema, which is swelling, or the build-up of fluid, in the macula. The macula is the area of the retina responsible for central vision. It’s the macula the enables you to recognize faces, read and drive. Macular edema is the most common cause of vision loss in people who have diabetic retinopathy.

Cataract

If you maintain good control of your blood glucose levels and your blood pressure, you’ll be less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy or, if you do, you’ll get a milder form of it. Those are risk factors you can control. Risk factors you can’t control are your genes and how long you’ve had diabetes.

Having diabetes puts you at higher risk for other eye conditions as well, including cataracts and glaucoma. Rapidly changing blood glucose levels can affect the eye’s lens and cause it to become cloudy. This can lead to a cataract. Anyone can get cataracts, but people with diabetes tend to get them earlier, and they progress faster.

Trabecular Meshwork

With glaucoma, pressure builds up inside the eye when fluid can’t be removed through the eye’s drainage system that includes the trabecular meshwork. High blood glucose levels damage the cells of this meshwork, so it can’t function properly. Fluid doesn’t drain and pressure builds up in the eye. If not treated, the pressure can damage the optic nerve, leading to permanent vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy, macular edema and glaucoma usually have no early symptoms. You may not know you have these diseases until they’ve already done damage to your eyes and affected your vision. That’s why an annual examination by an eye specialist is so important. The specialist can check your eyes for signs of these disorders, so early treatment can be started.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90 percent of diabetes-related vision loss can be prevented. Early detection is one of the ways to reach that goal, and it’s another reason for an annual eye exam. Another way to help prevent vision-stealing eye diseases is by maintaining good blood glucose and blood pressure control.

Following these simple tips can help save your vision. So can knowing these symptoms  that signal an emergency. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away:

  • Black spots in your vision
  • Flashes of light
  • “Holes” in your vision
  • Blurred vision

New Hope for Parkinson’s Patients

October 29th, 2018

Married couples aren’t the only ones who sometimes wish their honeymoons would last a little longer. People being treated for Parkinson’s disease often express the same wish regarding their treatment. Before long, their wish may be granted.

A clinical trial that began in July at the University of Arizona is aimed at finding out if ketamine, a drug used to treat depression, can extend what physicians refer to as “the honeymoon period’’ for Parkinson’s patients being treated with levodopa.

Levodopa, an amino acid created naturally in the human body, has long been used to treat some of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, particularly the stiffness and slow movement that comes with it.

The problem is that levodopa typically works great for a few years. That’s what doctors call the honeymoon period. After that, severe side effects such as uncontrollable and involuntary movement of the arms, legs and head develop.

Research has shown that 40-percent of all Parkinson’s patients being treated with levodopa experience these side effects, known clinically as dyskinesia and that the only way to stop them is to halt the levodopa treatments.

The intentions of the three-year, $750,000 clinical trial is to determine if ketamine, which has also been used to treat chronic pain, can help reduce the rash of involuntary movements brought on by the use of levodopa.

The belief that it can is shared by two University of Arizona doctors who first discovered ketamine’s added potential in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease several years ago when they began using it as a pain reliever for Parkinson’s patients.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic progressive neurological disease that is marked by the tremor of resting muscles, rigidity, slowness of movement, impaired balance, and a shuffling gait.

In addition to learning that ketamine helped ease pain in patients with Parkinson’s disease, the doctors discovered that the patients who were given ketamine treatments also experienced a noticeable reduction in dyskinesia.

The doctors later discovered that similar results were found when lab rodents with Parkinson’s disease were treated with ketamine, which can bring about some side effects of its own.

An increase in blood pressure and a feeling of disassociation with the body has sometimes been experience by people being treated with ketamine, which has also been used recreationally.

During the trial, however, the doctors intend to closely monitor blood pressure levels and they are confident the dosage needed to relieve the dyskinesia falls well below the dosage at which the disassociation effect is realized.

The trial is currently monitoring the effects of ketamine in 10 patients with Parkinson’s disease and is being conducted in conjunction with a separate study using rodents to determine how ketamine affects the brain.

Concerning Sudden Cardiac Arrest

October 23rd, 2018

They’re sometimes referred to as “massive heart attacks,” but that moniker is not quite accurate. It’s true sudden cardiac arrests, or SCAs, affect the heart, but they’re not true heart attacks. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is stopped or slowed, generally due to a blockage, causing the death of heart muscle tissue.

Generally, there are signs and symptoms signaling a heart attack, and in most cases, those hearts continue beating. But with SCA, people just collapse, discontinue breathing and their hearts simply stop beating. A very serious heart attack can lead to SCA, but most SCAs are caused by problems in the rhythm of the heartbeats.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, between 250,000 and 450,000 Americans suffer SCA annually. It occurs most often in people in their mid-30s to mid-40s and affects men twice as often as women. SCA is rare in children, affecting one to two per 100,000 each year.

Most of the body’s electrical activity is handled by nerves, but the heart has its own unique electrical system. In the heart, electricity is generated in special pacemaker cells in the atrium, or upper chamber, and is then carried through designated pathways to the heart muscle cells. The cells then all contract at once to produce a heartbeat.

If there is an interruption anywhere along that pathway, the heartbeat can become faster, slower or erratic. The most common cause of SCA is ventricular fibrillation, a very fast or chaotic heart rhythm, or arrhythmia. While ventricular fibrillation is most common, any arrhythmia can cause the heart the stop beating.

Most people at risk for SCA have coronary artery disease (CAD), although some don’t even know it. There are other heart-related risk factors for SCA including having an enlarged heart or cardiomyopathy, valvular heart disease and a congenital heart condition, a condition present since birth.

Some other factors that put you at risk for SCA include the risk factors for CAD. These include being a smoker, having diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or being overweight or obese, as well as living a sedentary lifestyle. Drinking more than two drink a day is another CAD risk factor, as is having a family history of the disease.

Other risk factors for SCA include having had a previous SCA or having a family history of SCA. If you’ve had a heart attack or have a family history of heart disease, your risk for SCA increases. The risk for SCA goes up with getting older, being male, using recreational drugs like cocaine and amphetamines, and having low levels of potassium or magnesium in your system.

Blunt force trauma, like what can occur in a car accident or after taking a direct blow to the chest, can also result in SCA. This is called commotio cordis. Strenuous physical activity can trigger SCA, but in most cases, there is an underlying heart problem that the people doing the activity may or may not be aware of. This is often the case when athletes in top physical condition experience SCA.

Most people who have SCA, about 95 percent, die from it, often within minutes. Rapid treatment of someone suffering SCA is critical not only for that person’s survival, but also to minimize damage to the brain from being without oxygenated blood for too long. Because when the heart stops beating, blood flow to the rest of the body also ceases.

The chances of a positive outcome increase dramatically if the person’s receives CPR and treatment with a defibrillator within minutes. Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are available in more and more public places, including shopping malls, busses, parks and schools. You can even get an AED for your home, but talk to your doctor before you buy.

AEDs are devices that analyze the heart and if they detect a problem deliver an electrical shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm. They are designed for use by laypeople and provide visual and voice prompts. They will only shock the heart when shocks are needed to restore normal rhythm.

If you witness someone in SCA, call, 911 immediately, then check to see if the person is breathing. If they’re not, begin chest compressions. If an AED happens to be available, use it on the unconscious, unbreathing person. Follow the instructions and prompts provided with the AED. Use the AED once, then continue chest compressions until emergency personnel arrive.

SCAs happen without notice, so they can’t be diagnosed until after they occur. There are, however, tests to diagnose contributory disorders and steps to reduce the impact of some risk factors. Having routine appointments and physicals with your doctor and getting appropriate screenings when required can help alert you to potential risk factors for SCA.

If you survive SCA or are at very high risk for SCA, your doctor may choose to place an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). An ICD is placed under the skin in your chest wall, with wires that attach to the heart. The ICD works like a pacemaker. When it detects a dangerous arrhythmia, it sends a shock to the heart to restore the natural rhythm.

Your doctor may also prescribe medication, especially if you’ve had a heart attack or if you have heart failure or an arrhythmia. Types of medications include ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and other anti-arrhythmia drugs. If you’ve got high cholesterol and CAD, your doctor may also prescribe a statin medication for lowering your cholesterol levels.

If you’re aware of a heart condition or other risk factors for SCA, you can help yourself by making some lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of CAD and subsequently SCA. Lifestyle behaviors to put into practice in your life include quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a low-fat diet and managing diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions.

For the best outcome in the case of SCA, treatment must be started within minutes of the event. If someone you love is at high risk for SCA, do them a favor and learn the proper techniques for CPR. The American Heart Association and many hospitals and health organizations routinely offer classes you can sign up for.

Think about learning CPR. You can save someone’s life.

MBC Miseries

October 16th, 2018

It’s pretty common knowledge that when someone is diagnosed with cancer, the cancer is typically assigned a “stage,” which is based on where the cancer cells have been detected. Generally, it goes from stage 0, meaning the cells are found only within the organ’s tissues, to stage IV, meaning the cancer cells have spread beyond the original organ.

The same is true with breast cancer. Stage IV breast cancer, which is also known as metastatic breast cancer, or MBC, is when breast cancer cells have traveled through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other areas of the body. The most common places for MBC are the bones, lungs, liver and brain.

According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, there are an estimated 154,000 people in the United States with MBC.1 In some cases, women have MBC when they’re initially diagnosed with breast cancer. This is called de novo MBC, and it’s uncommon. It only occurs in about 6 percent of cases.

The rest of the time, MBC is diagnosed months or years after the initial breast cancer treatment has been completed. This is generally referred to as a distant recurrence. In either case, the disease starts in the cells of the breast, and they’re breast cancer cells that cause the problems elsewhere, not bone, lung, liver or brain cells.

Symptoms of MBC vary tremendously and depend on which area of the body is involved. When the bones are affected, the most common symptoms are pain and bone fractures. Lung symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, prolonged coughing and fatigue.

Liver MBC symptoms tend to be subtle and are not obvious until much of the liver is compromised. They include nausea, extreme fatigue, increased abdominal size, swelling of the feet and hands, and yellowing of the skin. Brain symptoms may include headaches, confusion, memory loss, blurred or double vision, and speech or movement difficulties.

The reality is that, unlike breast cancer confined to the breast, MBC cannot be cured. It can, however, be treated, and treatment is guided by several factors. These include the characteristics or biology of the cancer cells themselves, the location of the metastasis, the current symptoms and past treatments used on the breast cancer.

The major goals of MBC treatment are to shrink tumors and weaken the cancer, manage your symptoms and side effects, and prevent the cancer from spreading further. The guiding hope is to control the cancer for as long as possible, while providing the highest possible quality of life. There are many approaches to treatment for MBC to help achieve this.

Chemotherapy, which is a systemic treatment, is often used to treat MBC; but in many cases, it is supplemented by another approach such as hormonal, or biologic or targeted therapies. Hormonal therapies target cancers that grow in the presence of certain hormones like estrogen or progesterone. Biologics target specific genes that make proteins that stimulate cell growth. They work if the MBC tumor overexpresses these proteins.

Other medications are sometimes used in the treatment of women with MBC. These include CDK4/6 inhibitors, which are a class of drugs designed to inhibit the CDK4 and CDK6 enzymes that are important in cell division. The CDK4/6 inhibitors interrupt the growth of cancer cells.

Research into new and improved treatment options for MBC is ongoing. One way to access these advanced approaches is by participating in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are research studies on the safety and effectiveness of new medications and treatment protocols. To find a clinical trial on MBC near you, ask your oncologist or visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Receiving treatment as soon as possible and updating it when appropriate are good strategies for helping to increase your longevity and your quality of life with MBC. Building good lifestyle habits can also help improve your quality of life as you cope with the strain of treating and living with MBC.

Eating a balanced diet low in saturated fat but high in plant-based foods is your best nutritional bet for fighting cancer. Exercise is important for your overall physical and mental health. It can help you increase your strength, reduce your stress, improve your mood and reduce side effects from cancer treatment.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation reports that of American women with MBC today, an estimated 34 percent have lived at least five years after diagnosis. And as treatments continue to improve, some may live ten years or more after diagnosis.

Life expectancy after an MBC diagnosis can be influenced by many factors. These include your age, your overall health, the types of tissues affected by the MBC and your general attitude and outlook. The fact is many women with breast cancer now live longer than they used to.

This is good news for women with MBC as well. Ongoing research is finding ever new and improved ways to treat this disease. Improved screening, and early diagnosis and treatment are prolonging the lives of women with MBC, as well as improving the quality of those lives.

Say “Yes” to Yoga

October 10th, 2018

Do you practice yoga or have you ever thought about trying it? I think about it quite a bit, but the problem is I just THINK about it. However, after reading about all of yoga’s benefits, I might actually DO something about it. Like any activity, you can get injured doing yoga, but most doctors agree that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

Yoga has an interesting backstory. For starters, it’s a 5,000-year-old practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. There are many different styles, or schools, of yoga that typically combine various physical poses (asanas) and breathing techniques to stimulate the body with meditation to relax the mind. In the West, it’s become a popular form of exercise to improve mind-body control and enhance well-being.

The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means “to yoke or join together.” Most people believe that refers to the union of the mind and body that occurs with yoga practice. Because there are many styles of yoga with various degrees of complexity, people of all fitness levels can find a style that suites them.

The practice of yoga focuses on your body’s natural tendency to gravitate toward health as well as its ability to self-heal. It works to create strength, awareness and harmony in mind and body. It can help you develop skills for coping and a more positive outlook on life. It also helps you get in tune with both your physical body and your inner self.

As I mentioned earlier, practicing yoga has many health benefits. Research has shown that yoga can help prevent disease and helps recover from it. I’ve read articles with long lists of benefits, but I’ve chose just a few to highlight here.

One of the biggest benefits of yoga is that it reduces stress, and high stress – which is bad enough on its own – is also a risk factor for a bunch of disorders Multiple research studies have shown that yoga can decrease the release of cortisol, which is the main stress hormone. Lower cortisol and lower the stress. Lowering stress helps fight many conditions, including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

There’s a growing body of research that shows yoga can help reduce chronic pain, a problem that affects millions of Americans. It has been shown to be especially effective in reducing pain due to carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis. Several studies suggest that yoga may be effective for chronic low-back pain as well.

Yoga improves flexibility and builds muscle strength. After several yoga classes, you’ll likely notice a gradual loosening of your muscles, and you’ll be able to get into poses you couldn’t get into before. You’ll strengthen your muscles as well, and when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility.

Another benefit of yoga is it gives your immune system a boost. The poses and breathing exercises probably play a part in this, but believe it or not, most of the research supports the role of meditation. Apparently, it gives the immune system a boost at times its called for duty, as in response to an invading organism, but mitigates its function when a reaction is inappropriate, such as with an autoimmune disease like psoriasis.

Yoga has many physical health benefits, but it also has mental health benefits. In addition to fighting depression and anxiety, yoga also helps raise self-esteem. People with low self-esteem often handle their feelings negatively. They might take drugs, drink, overeat, work too hard or sleep around, but yoga is a positive way to direct their energy.

Yoga teaches that its practitioners are manifestations of the Divine. If you practice yoga regularly, you’ll get in tune with your inner self, and you’ll discover that you’re worthwhile. You’ll also experience feelings of gratitude, empathy and forgiveness. Suddenly, you get a sense that you’re part of something bigger, and it gives you a whole new perspective on yourself. Who can’t use a little self-confidence enhancement!

It’s pretty clear that adding yoga a few times a week to your routine can give you a physical and mental boost. It’s worth giving it a try. Say “yes” to yoga. Say “yes” to better physical and mental health.

Breast Cancer Breakthroughs

October 9th, 2018

If you read the recent posting, you learned the basics of breast cancer. You know it’s a nasty disease. In fact, death rates from breast cancer are higher than those of any other cancer except lung cancer for American women. Knowing that may help you appreciate these remarkable breakthroughs recently announced by breast cancer researchers.

The results of one study were released in February and published in the journal Nature. The investigators in the study reported their findings that a certain protein found in many foods may reduce a dangerous type of breast cancer’s tendency to spread. This suggests that your diet may be a factor in treating this form of breast cancer.

The type of cancer is called triple-negative breast cancer because its cells lack receptors   for estrogen and progesterone and don’t make very much of a protein known as HER2. It is often deadly because it tends to travel to distant sites in the body.

In this multicenter study, which used laboratory mice, investigators found that by limiting an amino acid called asparagine, they could dramatically reduce the cancer’s ability to spread to the farther reaches of the body. That’s great news!

One of the drawbacks of this good news is that many foods contain a lot of asparagine. These include beef, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy products, eggs, potatoes, nuts, seeds, soy, whole grains and, surprise, surprise, asparagus. Most fruits and vegetables are low in the amino acid.

Unless you’re vegan, your diet will change dramatically. But it’s worth it if it stops the spread of this deadly cancer. The next step for researchers is to begin an early phase clinical trial using healthy subjects. The subjects would eat a low-asparagine diet, and the investigators would test for drops in asparagine levels.

After that, investigators will move on the next phase clinical trial and test their diet treatment on cancer patients. In that case, diet changes would be made in combination with the patients’ chemotherapy or other traditional treatments.

The results of another study were made public in September but are not due to be officially presented until the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in June. This study was a federally funded phase III clinical trial of women with an early-stage breast cancer that had certain characteristics.

The early stage breast cancer studied must be hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative and axillary node-negative. It must also score in the mid-range on a specialized test called a 21-tunor gene expression assay. The study investigators have some welcome news for women with this type of cancer.

Here’s something you’ll want to hear. The clinical trial showed that women with this breast cancer do not need to have chemotherapy after surgery. That’s awesome because you avoid all those horrible side effects. Apparently, there wasn’t any improvement in disease-free survival when chemotherapy was added to other treatments after surgery.

This is especially good news when you consider that half of all breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative and axillary node-negative. That means a lot of women are affected by this study’s outcome. Read what the study’s lead author, Joseph A. Sparano, MD, has to say about it:

“Our study shows that chemotherapy may be avoided in about seventy percent of these women when its use is guided by the test (21-tumor gene expression assay), thus limiting chemotherapy to the thirty percent who we can predict will benefit from it.”

These are the results of just two recently completed studies on breast cancer. These are many more that have been completed or are in progress. Because breast cancer is so deadly, research on it is ongoing. If you want to get involved in a clinical trial of a new drug or treatment, ask your doctor about one close to you or visit clinicaltrials.gov.

Between the last posting and this one, we’ve increased our awareness of breast cancer two-fold. Don’t keep your knowledge to yourself. Share a fact about breast cancer with someone else. Keep the awareness alive in others.

The Bottom Line on Breast Cancer

September 25th, 2018

It’s October. Everybody knows it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Look around. You see pink everywhere. The color is a reminder to get the facts about breast cancer and then get screened. Don’t think this doesn’t apply to you, men. You can get breast cancer, too, even though it’s much more common in women.

Consider these statistics. About one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. This year, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the US, as well as 63,960 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.

Sadly, an estimated 40,920 American women are expected to die in 2018 from breast cancer.

Listen up, men. An estimated 2.550 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in American men in 2018. You have a one in 1,000 chance of developing breast cancer over your lifetime. It’s much lower than the risk in women, but it’s still a risk.

Let’s start at the beginning. Breast cancer happens when cells in the breast start growing  uncontrollably. Most of the time, but not always, these extra cells collect and form tumors. These are the lumps that can be detected in the breasts on your self-exams or mammograms.

Feeling a lump in your breast is one warning sign of breast cancer, but there are others as well. You might notice thickening, swelling or dimpling of an area of your breast. Look for red or flaky skin, or other changes near the nipple, as well as any secretion from the nipple other than breast milk. Pain in the breast could also be a sign of breast cancer.

If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Breast cancer is the result of a mutation or abnormal change in the genes that regulate the growth and reproduction of breast cells. Only about five to ten percent of breast cancers are caused by mutations passed on from your parents. The rest are caused by abnormal changes that occur as a result of aging and life in general.

That makes getting older a risk factor for breast cancer, one you can’t do anything about. Other risk factors out of your control include inheriting a genetic mutation, getting your period before age 12 and menopause after 55, having dense breasts, having a personal or family history of breast cancer and having been treated with radiation therapy.

There are also risk factors for breast cancer that you can do something about, things like being physically inactive, being overweight, drinking a lot of alcohol and taking hormones. In addition, having your first baby after age 30, not breastfeeding and never having a full-term pregnancy can also increase the risk of breast cancer.

You can’t change your age or your genes, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. A few of these suggestions are no-brainers. We already know that we should maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and limit our alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day.

These suggestions you may not have heard. For one, think hard and have a heart-to-heart discussion with your doctor about the risks of taking the Pill or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). They may not be right for you. If you have a baby, consider breastfeeding, if you’re able. If you have a family history or a genetic mutation, talk to your doctor about things you can do to lessen your risk.

With breast cancer, as with most cancers, detecting it early is critical to treatment success. It’s best to find it before the cancer cells have had a chance to invade the nearby lymph nodes and spread to other areas of the body from there. Maintaining a routine screening schedule can assist with early detection.

The first part of the screening process is regular breast self-exams. You know the look and feel of your breasts, so you’re likely to notice changes such as lumps, pain, or differences in size or shape. You should also get regular clinical breast exams by a doctor or nurse, who use their hands to feel your breasts for lumps.

 

The next step is to get a mammogram. The current recommendations are that women ages 50 to 74 at average risk should get a mammogram every two years. Women 40 to 49 should talk to their doctors about when to start and how often to get the test. If lumps are detected, your doctor may perform a biopsy to determine if their cells are cancerous.

If cancer is detected, there are many approaches to treating it. Doctors often use more than one approach on each patient.

Chemotherapy is a common approach. It uses drugs to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Surgery, called mastectomy, is often used to remove the breasts and the tumors. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays directed at the spot of the cancer to kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy and radiation have uncomfortable side effects.

Doctors use additional treatment approaches including hormonal therapy. Hormonal therapy doesn’t allow the cancer cells to get the hormones they need to survive. Another approach is biological therapy, which works with the immune system, your body’s natural defense against disease. Biological therapy helps the immune system fight the cancer. It also helps control the side effects of other cancer treatments.

Breast cancer is the subject of a lot of research, and if you’re interested, you can participate in a clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of new drugs and treatments. To find a clinical trial near you, ask your doctor or go to clinicaltrials.gov.

Now, you’ve got the facts on breast cancer. Put on something pink and share what you’ve learned!

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