Screenings Can Help Catch Cancer Early

Lifestyle Changes Can Also Reduce Cancer Risk

Cancer, unfortunately, touches nearly everyone. You likely have a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with cancer. The American Cancer Society predicted an estimated 1.69 million new cancer cases would be diagnosed and 595,690 people would die from cancer in 2016. While more Americans die annually from heart disease, cancer is quickly gaining ground. A study last month from the National Vital Statistics System reported cancer was the top cause of death in 22 states.

While genetics and lifestyle decisions, such as smoking, are linked to some form of cancers, scientists still have not pinpointed a definitive cause for most cases. Cancer is a scary topic few people want to talk about, but people can take steps to avoid cancer or catch it before it spreads to other parts of the body, which makes treatment more difficult. Improve your chances of catching cancer early:

  • Ask about your family health history. Some cancers, including ovarian, colon and breast, have a genetic link. Talk to your parents or other family members to learn if they have heard of any cancer diagnosis in the family. If there is a history of cancer in the family, tell your medical provider. That information can help him or her determine if you should begin cancer screens earlier than the standard recommendations.
  • Lifestyle changes. If you smoke or normally have a tan from either nature or a tanning bed, stopping those activities will lower your chances of developing lung cancer and skin cancer respectively. Smokers have several free resources to help them kick the habit so please reach out to your medical provider for help. For sun worshippers, skip the tanning booths, apply a sunscreen with a high SPF when outside, and consider getting a spray tan if you like the look. While there is no definite research or link, eating a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean meat, whole grains and dairy products combined with regular exercise will improve your waistline and perhaps lower your risk of developing some cancers.
  • Get screened. Several screenings available to both men and women can identify cancer in its early stages. For women, regular pap tests can identify cervical cancers while annual mammograms after age 40 (or earlier if family history warrants) can spot breast cancer. Everyone should have a colonoscopy at age 50 to look for signs of colon cancer. If the scan is clear, you will not need another one for 10 years. Everyone should also have their skin checked regularly by a medical professional to identify signs of cancer.

If your health professional discovers cancer, we are fortunate in this part of Wisconsin to have an advanced cancer center nearby. The ThedaCare Cancer Center opened in Appleton last February and provides a full spectrum of care, including some of the most advanced cancer treatments and therapies available, all under one roof. ThedaCare is also a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, which provides additional resources for health professionals.

Cancer is definitely a topic most people do not want to talk about, but by making lifestyle changes and getting screened you can improve your odds of catching the disease in its early stages, which gives health professionals more treatment options.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at