Your Health- The importance of cancer awareness

Cancer affects millions of Americans as officials estimate that there are 1.7 million new cancer cases this year.

This is making cancer awareness key in addressing and detecting the various forms of the disease.

According to the National Cancer Institute’s latest report, 15.3 million people were living with cancer in 2016.

One of the ways cancer can affect the body is through joint and spine issues caused by the cancer or the treatments. Dr. Zinovy Meyler is the co-director of the Interventional Spine Program at Princeton Spine and Joint Center. He has been practicing at the center for nine years and did part of his training at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York. He said it is important to first address the issues by knowing what type of cancer a patient is dealing with.

“There are primary or secondary metastatic cancers. Some of the cancers will be primary meaning either tumors of the bone itself, which are usually sarcomas,” Meyler said. “The others are going to be the metastasis cancers. Most common are breast cancer and prostate cancer. Lung cancer and testicular cancer can go to the bones and spine, as well.”

He explained examples of two types of patients.

“One type of patient is one where the oncologist has looked and found that this patient has prostate cancer and we know that there is metastasis to the spine and the patient is referred to us, we then look at how we can manage and control the pain,” he said. “The other type is a patient that comes in with a known cancer such as breast cancer. This can be someone who has active breast cancer, which means there is a diagnosis being treated with chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. They are having ongoing treatment at this point and then here comes back pain, we then have to figure out if this is just back pain or back pain due to several factors.”

One of the factors Meyler said needs to be ruled out is if there is a metastatic tumor that has gone to spine and is causing pain. Once that has been excluded, doctors then have to look at whether it is the treatment causing the pain or is it secondary pain in parallel to the treatment.

“Just because someone has the diagnosis of cancer does not mean that they cannot have musculoskeletal issues that are prevalent in the rest of the population. Whenever we are treating something we are doing something that has potential side affects,” he said. “For instance, there are medications that are cutting edge that can have side effects.”

Meyler said when a patient is experiencing a lot of pain they must pay attention to a lot of things when comes to the cancer or treatment.

“What helps is if they can keep a diary; they keep a diary to know when the pain starts, when it began and what time of pain is it,” he said.

When it comes to different forms of cancer, breast cancer is one of the most common in the country.

Dr. Rose Mustafa is a breast surgeon who specializes in surgical care for breast disease. She is part of the Capital Health Surgical Group in Pennington. Mustafa said it is key for women to be aware of the risk factors when it comes to the disease.

“One thing we tell our patients is that there are risk factors for breast cancer that we cannot control- such as gender, family history and age,” Mustafa said. “Factors that put us at risk for breast cancer that we can control have more to do with lifestyle. Meaning drinking alcohol, obesity, lack of exercise and smoking are things that we can control that put us at risk for breast cancer.”

Mustafa said for the risk factors that can be changed, there are preventative measures that we can take such as exercising to maintain a health weight.

“Patients being over weight and obese are known in research to have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer and have poor outcomes after treatment. Smoking has been linked to breast cancer, so attempt to quit if you can. Drinking alcohol including wine, beer or liquor increases a woman’s risk for hormone positive receptor breast cancer,” she said. “So limit the amount each week to five beverages or less.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness for the disease.

“Screening and awareness are important when addressing and tackling this issue. Educated patients go a long way. Screening is generally started at age 40 with a mammogram if you are at average risk for breast cancer,” Mustafa said. “If patients know they have a higher risk such as family history with breast cancer, they should see a breast specialist early on in their 30s or 20s.”