Here’s a look at the current prevention, detection and treatment options for the four most common types of cancer—and what might be available in the next five years.
Breast Cancer Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and results in some 178,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths annually.
Prevention Maintaining a healthy weight through menopause, exercising, and limiting alcohol consumption may reduce a woman’s risk. As for hormone replacement therapy, there are differing opinions; talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits.
Detection If there’s a family history of breast cancer, get tested to see whether you carry the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes. Perform breast self-exams and have regular mammograms. These can catch precancerous cells and small tumors before they spread.
Treatment The options include surgery and radiation; chemotherapy; anti-estrogen medications such as tamoxifen; aromatase inhibitors such as anastrozole; and targeted drugs such as trastuzumab.
Coming next Breast MRIs and ultrasound may become the standard for early detection. Treatment may be more focused, with less-invasive surgical techniques and better, more targeted radiation treatments. Prostate Cancer Some 219,000 cases of prostate cancer—the most common type of cancer in men and the second-leading cause of all cancer deaths—are diagnosed every year.
Prevention Restricting fat intake may help prevent the disease. The ACS says a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in red meat may cut the risk.
Detection The American Cancer Society recommends regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests and digital rectal exams starting at age 50—age 45 for African-American men and those with a first-degree relative diagnosed with the disease before age 65. But it’s not a perfect test.
Treatment Hormonal therapy that reduces the production of testosterone slows tumor growth and may prolong survival. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are also used.
Coming next New drugs currently in trials could reach the market within five years.
Lung Cancer Lung cancer is responsible for nearly 30 percent of all cancer deaths. In 2007, new cases may exceed 213,000, while deaths may top 160,000.
Prevention The biggest risk factor is smoking, which accounts for about 87 percent of new cases. Next on the list: exposure to secondhand smoke, asbestos and radon gas.
Detection A spiral computer tomography (CT) scan is being tested to see if it can pick up tumors at an earlier, more treatable stage. Scientists are also studying whether early detection prolongs survival.
Treatment Surgery, radiation and conventional chemotherapy are used. Two targeted drug therapies, erlotinib and bevacizumab, attack cancer cells only, leaving most healthy ones alone.
Coming next In about five years they may have a genetic test (“lung metagene model”) to predict a person’s prognosis.
Colorectal Cancer In the U. S. , more than 52,000 deaths related to cancer of the colon or rectum occur each year; almost 154,000 new cases are diagnosed.
Prevention Most colon cancer arises from polyps. But it takes 8 to 12 years for a polyp to turn into cancer, so the earlier polyps can be removed, the more colon cancer risk is reduced.
Detection Colorectal screenings should begin at 50, along with an annual fecal occult blood test and a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years or a colonoscopy every 10 years. African-Americans should begin colorectal screening at 45.
Treatment Surgery—alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation—is the common treatment. Newer targeted drugs, such as bevacizumab and cetuximab, keep cancer cells from growing and improve overall survival rates.
Coming next Fecal DNA analysis, in which stool is tested to identify genetic mutations, may help in prevention and diagnosis. The test is expected to be available in two to four years. Researchers continue to make progress in preventing, managing and treating cancer- and that’s welcome news for all of us.
Writer: Jo Cavallo ©REMEDY, Summer 2007
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Jo Cavallo is a writer for MediZine, LLC. Robert A. Barnett is Content Director of HealthyUpdates.com , a health education website produced by MediZine, LLC.