Nearly everyone can name a friend or family member who has battled some form of cancer and unfortunately many of those people also suffered from some form of cancer pain.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in Nevada alone, 14,450 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2014. At 1 time, it seemed that cancer was impossible to prevent, predict, or cure, but things are changing.

There are several ways to reduce the likelihood of cancer.

Many diseases, such as arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes, have been connected to factors like diet, weight, smoking, and activity level.  Recent research has shown that cancer can be affected by the same factors. A healthy diet, exercise, and avoidance of tobacco products can all lessen an individual’s risk of cancer.

For example, a Daily Mail article states that 37% of pancreatic cancer cases could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking. Researchers at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center found that women who consumed more fruits and vegetables were less likely to develop bladder cancer. A study conducted by the University of Regensburg in Germany found that inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle can cause an increased risk for lung, colon, and endometrial cancer.

Additionally, some chemical substances and environmental factors can increase the risk of cancer.  Some of these factors are well-known, such as the connections between smoking and asbestos to lung cancer, but the American Cancer Society has compiled a list of even more substances that are known or suspected to cause cancer.

The substance BPA has also come under scrutiny. BPA, or bisphenol A, is a plasticizer commonly used in products like soup can labels, water bottles, and paper receipts. A study conducted by researchers at University of Illinois at Chicago concluded that fetal exposure to BPA causes a significantly increased risk of prostate cancer in men. Many products, such as water bottles and sippy cups, are now labeled with “BPA-free” stickers to help avoid this potentially dangerous substance.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoid cancer-causing substances can be beneficial, it’s also important to know when to be screened for cancer.

The National Cancer Institute states:

“The use of screening tests to detect cancers early provides better opportunities for patients to obtain more effective treatment with fewer side effects. Patients whose cancers are found early and treated in a timely manner are more likely to survive these cancers than are those whose cancers are not found until symptoms appear.”

While some screening tests are recommended based on age and risk factors, it’s also vital that people communicate any abnormal symptoms, such as pain, to their physicians. On rare occasions, cancer pain can be mistaken for food allergies or a virus. This is why individuals should always be sure to discuss their symptoms openly and regularly with a physician.

Because early detection of cancer can lead to more effective treatment and better outcomes, screening tests are vital. However, many people forgo testing because they don’t think it’s important, don’t realize they’re at risk, or don’t have easy access to testing. Researchers at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center have found a way to increase individuals’ likelihood to undergo testing. This could potentially lead to earlier and more effective treatment of cancer.

People at risk for cancer–in this case, relatives of those with colorectal cancer–received a telephone call from a medical professional. This allowed individuals a chance to discuss their risk factors with an expert, which could be particularly helpful for those who live in remote locations without access to other medical experts. The researchers in this study found that after a personalized telephone conversation, at-risk individuals were much more likely to undergo screening tests.

For those who do develop cancer, treatments are always being improved.

New cancer-curing drugs and substances are always being investigated. For example, Dr. Ratna Ray, associate professor of pathology at Saint Louis University, is researching bitter melon extract. This substance, which is from a vegetable commonly used in some Eastern diets, reduces the growth of head and neck cancer cells in animals. Further research must be conducted before Dr. Ray can test this treatment for human head and neck cancer, but it’s promising so far.

More effective use of other medical equipment may also improve cancer treatments, as researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cancer Center have shown.  Phytodynamic Therapy (PDT) is a safe, relatively non-invasive procedure to treat pancreatic cancer. However, because of the location of the pancreas, it can be difficult for physicians to visualize treatment or to know what dosage of drug to use. Dartmouth’s researchers have found that the use of contrast dye injections and computed tomography (CT) imaging can greatly reduce these problems, as well as give physicians an idea of how successful PDT will be.

Additionally, combination treatments, such as radiotherapy plus hormone therapy, are being looked at as more effective than a single treatment, such as hormone therapy alone. Findings presented by Dr. Sophie Fosså suggested that this is, indeed, the case for men with prostate cancer. The 10-year survival rate for those undergoing combination therapy is double that of those undergoing hormone therapy alone.

Cancer pain, while sometimes severe, can almost always be lessened by medical treatments.

Cancerous growths can sometimes press on or damage nearby tissue. Other times, cancers can release chemicals that painfully stimulate nerves. While cancer pain can occur with almost any type of cancer, bone, breast, and prostate cancer are known to be particularly painful.

Unfortunately, the treatments for cancer can also cause pain. Chemotherapy can cause joint, muscle, and abdominal pain. Also, it can lead to painful sensitivity to cold in the extremities. Another cancer treatment, radiotherapy, can damage surrounding tissue and cause painful tingling sensations.

Although some people suffering from cancer pain may believe that pain is simply a fact of life, this isn’t true. Cancer pain is miserable to endure and can have a negative impact on day-to-day life. In fact, pain that lasts for longer than 3 months, or chronic pain, can have serious effects on cardiovascular health, mental function, and more.

Therefore, those suffering from cancer pain should speak to a physician about undergoing 1 of the many treatments that are available. To make sure that the proper treatment plan is chosen, an individual’s physician needs a thorough understanding of his or her cancer pain. For this, a pain dairy that tracks the intensity, duration, and location of the pain can be helpful.

Have you or 1 of your loved ones ever experienced cancer pain?

Image by Erik Söderström via Flickr

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