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Raise Cancer Awareness In Your Community

September is a month to raise awareness for leukemia, lymphoma, childhood cancers, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, thyroid cancer and liver cancer.

September 6, 2011 | Heather Burchfield

While September is a special month as it marks the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is also a time to raise awareness about leukemia, lymphoma, childhood cancers, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, thyroid cancer and liver cancer.

Leukemia and lymphoma affect children and adults. Leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood or bone marrow, and lymphoma is a cancer in the lymphatic cells of the immune system. In 2010, there were more than half a million people living with these two cancers according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“Facing leukemia or lymphoma is a fight you don’t want to take on by yourself. Having a strong support system can make a big difference during treatment,” Dr. Madan Jagasia, director of the Outpatient Transplant Unit at Vanderbilt, said. “It’s always good to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible, including being aware of clinical trials offered.”

While leukemia and lymphoma tend to be less discriminatory, prostate cancer only affects men, and ovarian cancer only affects women. If you’re male, the older you are the more at risk you become for prostate cancer. Following skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men (lung cancer being first) according to the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Sam Chang, professor of Urologic Surgery at Vanderbilt, along with his colleagues, agree with the American Urological Association prostate screening recommendations.  Chang said that men, starting at age 40, should begin discussions with their doctors regarding the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening.

“Those who decide to pursue screening should undergo PSA (prostate-specific antigen) testing and a digital rectal exam,” Chang noted.  “The frequency of checkups depends on several factors.  I would encourage patients with risk factors, such as being African-American or having a family history of prostate cancer, to initiate and have more regular screenings.”

Screening for ovarian cancer is also complicated in that there are no routine or standard tests performed. Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer of the female reproductive system, according to the National Cancer Institute. Detecting ovarian cancer is difficult since many times the symptoms tend to mimic other less threatening illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, it is recommended that you speak to your doctor.

Like leukemia and lymphoma, thyroid cancer affects children and adults, but the cancerous cells attack the tissues of the thyroid gland in the endocrine system. Dr. Wendell Yarbrough, a head and neck surgical oncologist at Vanderbilt, said that the known risk factors for thyroid cancer are having a family history and exposure to radiation, especially at a young age. The American Cancer Society encourages people to have their doctor perform a cancer-related checkup that includes the thyroid during routine physical exams.

As discussed, an important aspect of raising cancer awareness is prevention. Dr. Laura Williams Goff, assistant professor in hematology/oncology at Vanderbilt, agrees with the American Cancer Society’s stance in preventing liver cancer. Hepatitis vaccinations and treatments are two ways to help prevent this deadly disease. (Research is still being conducted for a hepatitis C vaccine.) “Controlling risk factors is important as well, such as alcohol abuse, obesity and diabetes,” Goff said.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, thyroid cancer or liver cancer, Vanderbilt-Ingram has a group of internationally recognized oncologists and surgeons that work together to give the best care possible. You can have your doctor refer you or you can request an appointment.

There are many ways to raise awareness for these cancers throughout the month. Here are just a few:

  • Encourage your husband, father or friend to make an appointment with his doctor to discuss prostate screening.
  • Encourage your mother, wife or friend to make an appointment with her gynecologist if she has a family history of ovarian cancer, symptoms or a genetic predisposition such as a BRCA mutation.
  • Participate in the Vanderbilt sponsored memory walk, Light the Night, which is an event organized by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, on Friday, October 14.  Join team VICC! (There are also other memory walks offered.)
  • Donate to fund research for leukemia, lymphoma, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, thyroid cancer and/or liver cancer. Cancer research is crucial to finding a cure!