Column: Early detection key to fighting cancer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 29, 2007

When I was a senior in high school, my family had a Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ home.

This was not unusual – we ate Sunday dinner together often. My brother, sister and I always enjoyed it, not just because we loved visiting with our grandparents, but because my grandmother is a great cook and always puts out an incredible spread.

But this particular Sunday dinner was different. My father had brought us all together so he could tell us he had been diagnosed with leukemia.

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Of course, my mother already knew, but it came as quite a shock to the rest of us. My father was 41 years old at the time. He told us the type of leukemia he had – chronic lymphocytic leukemia – was a disease that progressed slowly.

That sounded like good news, so we hoped for a cure, and prayed for a miracle.

My father died seven years later – two years after the disease had progressed to the point that he began receiving treatment.

Just this week, we heard the news that Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, has a reoccurrence of colon cancer and it has spread to his liver.

Last week, Elizabeth Edwards, and her husband, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, announced that her breast cancer has returned, and has spread to her bones.

Both Snow and Edwards have positive attitudes.

Edwards told Katie Couric that she hopes one of the things that comes out of her battle will be that people will see “that you’re not necessarily dying of cancer, but you can also live with cancer and that you can live a full life. Concentrate on the things that matter to you.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, according to the American Cancer Society. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer is 1 in 8 or about 13 percent of women.

There will be about 178,000 new cases diagnosed this year in the United States.

The good news is that there are more than 2 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. And – more good news – breast cancer can be detected early through self exams and mammograms.

The American Cancer Society recommends women ages 40 and older have a mammogram every year.

Women with increased risk – such as those who have breast cancer in their family – should begin talking to their doctor now – there is no minimum age to start the discussion.

According to the American Cancer Society, deaths from colorectal cancer have been going down in the United States, but this disease is still expected to claim 52,000 lives in 2007.

It is, in fact, the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

Screening is your best bet for catching the disease early, or even preventing it in the first place. The American Cancer Society recommends regular colon cancer screening for everyone 50 and older.

People who have a higher-than-average risk of colon cancer – because someone in their family had the disease, for instance – may need to begin screening at a younger age.

(Katie Couric’s husband, Jay Monahan, was 42 when he died of colon cancer).

If you’re on Medicare, ask your doctor about colon cancer screening because Medicare now covers these tests.

Some things in life you can’t do much to prevent – some you can.

Find out more about cancer prevention at

Tammy Leytham is the editor of The Selma Times-Journal.