Many women spend much of their time taking care of the needs of their families.
In many cases women put themselves last when they pursue healthcare, thinking
they are healthy and spending the often finite financial resources on
care for their children, parents and spouse. Symptoms are just brushed
aside, suffered through, and put up with, month after month and sometimes
year after year until it is too late.
Prevention is the best medicine, and this applies to preventing cancers
that are unique to women or to detecting them early when cancer is most curable.
The most common cancers unique to women include breast, ovarian, uterine
and cervical cancers. Breast cancer is one hundred times more likely to
occur in women than men, although it does occur in men. If we can detect
a cancer so early that it is curable, we can prevent symptoms or death from it.
Screening offers a chance to detect a cancer early when it is most curable.
Mammography is a good screening test for breast cancer; but monthly self-exam
and annual exam by your doctor is also part of screening. A nodule that
a woman or doctor can feel in a woman’s breast is very important,
even if it does not show up on a mammogram. If a woman feels a nodule
in her breast or if her breast becomes red or swollen and does not clear
up in a few days, she should see her doctor about this right away. MRI
x-rays are indicated only for those with high risk of breast cancer, such
as those with inherited genetic abnormalities.
The best cancer screening to detect cervical cancer is the Pap smear. One
can detect non-cancerous changes early and, once treated, a cervical cancer
does not occur. Actual prevention, even of these pre-cancerous changes,
occurs when the cervical cancer vaccine is given before one is sexually
active. Recognizing symptoms of cervical or uterine cancer is important
and these include unusual vaginal bleeding often without pain or discomfort.
If these symptoms occur, one should see their primary care doctor or gynecologist
as soon as possible.
Ovarian cancer presents with vague symptoms and is a cancer for which there
is not yet a good screening test. By the time a trans-vaginal ultrasound
can detect an ovarian cancer, it is usually incurable by surgery. A lab
test called the CA-125 elevates in ovarian cancer and can be used to follow
such patients, but it is not a good screening test, as it elevates in
non-cancerous conditions. A woman must listen to her body and if she has
persistent bloating, vague discomfort, or swelling of her abdomen she
should see her doctor. A large family history of ovarian cancer is the
biggest risk factor for ovarian cancer and this should evoke a visit to
Information regarding one’s own risk of these cancers can be found
by discussing such information with your doctor or at several websites
including the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov), National Comprehensive Cancer Network (www.nccn.com), or Up To Date (www.uptodate.com).
Laura Campbell, MD, is a Medical Oncologist at the Cancer Center of Thibodaux Regional.
About Thibodaux Regional Health System
Thibodaux Regional Health System, a 185-bed acute care facility, provides
inpatient and outpatient care for the people of Lafourche and seven surrounding
parishes. Highly specialized services offered include Heart Surgery, Medical
and Radiation Oncology, Neurology, Neurosurgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Sports
Medicine, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, General, Laparoscopic, and
Bariatric Surgery, Pulmonology, Rheumatology, Women’s Services,
Sleep Disorders, Behavioral Health, and Inpatient and Outpatient Physical
Nationally recognized for quality care and service, Thibodaux Regional
has been named a Distinguished Hospital by J.D. Power and Associates and
has been honored with the Press Ganey Summit Award for high levels of
patient satisfaction. In 2009, Thibodaux Regional received the Outstanding
Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons Commission on
Cancer for the second time and is the only hospital in Louisiana to do
so. For more information visit