This year 1.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer, and 570,000 will die from the disease. The good news is that significant advances in the treatment and preventive measures are contributing to declining rates of cancer.
To learn more, Smart Business spoke to cancer specialists Marsha Fink, M.D., medical oncologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, and Joel Cherlow, M.D., radiation oncologist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center.
What causes cancer?
While causes are unknown, research is helping identify causes and cures. Since different cancers have varying risk factors, understanding them can help in prevention. Fortunately, some factors like not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, getting plenty of exercise and limiting sun exposure help reduce your risk. Other risk factors — age, ethnicity, family history and inherited genes — cannot be changed. To assist patients in determining their risk for diseases that can be inherited, including colon, uterine, breast and ovarian cancer, our genetic counseling services help patients better understand the risk and prevention options.
Why are the rates declining?
We are witnessing much more effective diagnosis and treatment of major cancers. Screenings such as pap smears to detect cervical cancer, colonoscopies to identify colon cancer, mammograms to detect breast cancer and PSA tests to determine the likelihood of prostate cancer, are examples. Laws restricting smoking and education on its associated risks are stemming lung cancer. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce the onset of cancer. Vaccines like those used to prevent cervical cancer may be effective in other cancers as well. Emerging treatment technologies, techniques and drug discoveries continue to help us more accurately treat cancer with fewer side effects.
Can we access these advances locally?
When you or a loved one is facing a cancer diagnosis, choosing where to turn for cancer care is an important decision. The MemorialCare Cancer Institutes at Saddleback Memorial and Orange Coast Memorial have both been awarded the coveted national accreditation by the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer as comprehensive community cancer programs. MemorialCare is dedicated to early diagnosis, research, treatment and education of patients with cancer or serious blood disorders and ensuring our cancer patients have access to ongoing cancer research protocols.
The MemorialCare Medical Centers specialize in innovative treatments using some of the most advanced technologies, leading-edge surgical options, innovative therapies and treatments in Orange County to deliver the highest quality, comprehensive care. These range from screenings for multiple cancers and state-of-the-art diagnostic services to the most sophisticated radiation oncology programs — including the area’s only hospital-sited robotic CyberKnife for precise radiation therapy. Our comprehensive MemorialCare Breast Centers screen among the highest number of patients for breast cancer in Southern California.
How do cancer specialists collaborate to benefit patients?
Through the interdisciplinary treatment planning conferences, specialists review new or difficult cases and develop treatment plans suited to each of the patient’s specific needs. Through this coordinated effort, we are able to deliver quality and precision in cancer care with intense commitment to quality of life.
Like most cancer centers, we are dedicated to treating the whole person and believe that one should never make the journey alone. In addition to treatments, our programs include support groups and psychosocial services — all designed to help patients and families every step of the way.
What can we expect in the future?
Scores of innovative cancer therapies and treatments are in varying stages of development as researchers learn more about cancer cell biology and new treatments. Pharmaceuticals are being created to better kill tumors by cutting off their blood supply. Therapeutic vaccines may be able to boost the immune system’s natural ability to protect the body from disease. Gene sequencing looks for specific DNA mutations that occur with different types of cancers. The ability to identify those mutations may lead to new treatments. Physicians are beginning to use knowledge gained by research to look at an individual’s DNA to predict cancer risk. Personalized screening for those at higher risk will help detect cancer at its earliest signs. Doctors will be better able to customize treatment by choosing the most effective treatment and thus avoiding those that will not work.
How can employers help?
Encourage employees to take advantage of cancer screenings. Employers should also initiate wellness programs. These can be as simple as ensuring worksite cafeterias and vending machines have healthy food, offering exercise tips and providing pedometers to use during breaks and mealtimes. Partner with a local accredited hospital cancer center to offer onsite education. This website provides online risk assessments and tools as well as a wealth of information on cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment.