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Cancer Care for Women

As your partner on the journey, Palos Community Hospital offers a comprehensive program for breast cancer and other cancers experienced by women. Palos is one of only 106 accredited cancer programs in the United States to be granted the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC) Outstanding Achievement Award for excellence in providing quality care for cancer patients. That means you receive the highest level of cancer care available anywhere. 

At Palos, you also benefit from inpatient and outpatient oncology services that range from screening, detection and diagnosis through treatment with chemotherapy or surgery and follow-up in our Cancer Rehab program to help you regain function and as much independence as possible. 

Screenings Save Lives

The most important thing you can do to help lower your risk of cancer and increase your chances of early detection is to get regular screenings. Palos oncologist Vasia Ahmed, M.D., recommends a yearly physical that includes a complete blood count, as well as annual visits to a gynecologist for breast and pelvic exams and a Pap smear. Get a baseline colonoscopy at age 50 and, if it’s normal, schedule one every 10 years thereafter. 

To protect yourself against breast cancer—the most common form of cancer found in women—Dr. Ahmed follows the guidelines of the American Cancer Society and the American College of Physicians, which recommend that all women have annual mammograms starting at age 40. A screening mammogram is still your best diagnostic tool for early detection of breast cancer. More breast cancers are found and cured each year because they were caught early. 

Symptoms to Watch

Most of the time, you can probably get by with ignoring a subtle ache or pain. But some symptoms are distinctly associated with cancer and should not be dismissed. 

Breast Lumps

Monthly breast self-exams and annual mammograms are critical in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. But even if you’ve had a mammogram within the past three months, you should always get any palpable breast lump checked out right away by your doctor. Breast cancer has now passed lung cancer as the most common form of the disease in women.

Breast Changes

Monthly breast self-exams are also important because you need to become familiar with your breasts and that takes time. Besides noticing lumps, pay attention to redness and thickening of the skin or a persistent rash. Those can be signs of a rare but aggressive condition called inflammatory breast disease. Ask your physician to examine these symptoms and others such as dimpling, discharge and anything you notice that’s out of the ordinary.

Abdominal Distention and Discomfort

Gaining weight in only one area, such as your abdomen, is unusual. If you notice an increase in your waist size, you should also notice more fullness in your face and breasts. If you don’t, talk to your doctor, especially if the weight gain is accompanied by feelings of discomfort, bloating, abdominal pain or back pain. Take seriously any disproportionate weight gain and get evaluated right away.

Postmenopausal Bleeding

Endometrial cancer is a relatively common gynecological cancer, and roughly 75 percent of women diagnosed with the condition had some abdominal bleeding as an early sign. According to Dr. Ahmed at Palos, you should get an evaluation for any bleeding that happens after not having a period for three months. If you’re premenopausal, talk to your doctor about any bleeding that occurs between periods, especially if it’s unusual.

Difficulty Swallowing

This common sign of esophageal and throat cancers can also be an early indication of lung cancer. A hoarse or husky voice, or the feeling of something pressing on or stuck in the throat, can alert you to early forms of thyroid cancer or a precancerous thyroid nodule. Get an evaluation for anything that affects your ability to swallow or talk.

Skin Changes

Suspicious moles that change in size, shape or color are well-known signs of skin cancer, but you also need to look for changes in skin pigmentation and texture, such as excessive scaling. Ask your doctor to examine any skin lesion or bump that doesn’t heal, becomes crusty or bleeds easily.

Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Blood in the urine or stool can signal colon, bladder or kidney cancers. While bleeding may be associated with a woman’s monthly period or hemorrhoids, but it is important to watch for blood in the urine or stool. If it happens more than once, get it checked out.

Persistent Cough

At certain times of year or with colds, flu and allergies, coughs can be common. But a cough that lasts more than three or four weeks should be evaluated by your doctor, especially if you’re a smoker.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Most women would be delighted if the pounds started to melt away without even trying, so this is one cancer symptom you may be tempted to overlook. But if you notice a weight loss of 10 pounds or more in one month—without increasing your activity level or decreasing the amount of food you eat—talk to your doctor.

Fatigue

With busy schedules and lots to do, you’re probably like most of us who seem to feel tired all the time. But extreme fatigue also may be a sign of leukemia and many other cancers. Here’s the test: If general fatigue and weakness actually interfere with your ability to perform everyday tasks, or if you experience unexplained exhaustion that doesn’t respond to adequate sleep, talk to your doctor.

Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

While we still don’t know the causes of most cancers, we know you can take steps to help reduce your risks. Incorporating even small changes into your daily life can make a big difference. Start with just one of these five tips. Then, try another. The changes you make today will reward you for a lifetime.

Get Screened

Regular self-exams and professional screenings for cancers such as breast, cervical, colon and skin can increase your chances of an early diagnosis, when treatment is likely to be most successful. Ask your doctor about the best cancer screening schedule for you..

Eliminate Tobacco

If you smoke, the most powerful thing you can do to prevent cancer is stop smoking. If you’ve stopped or never started, take the tactic a step further by avoiding smoke-filled environments. Designate your home as a no-smoking zone and encourage others to do the same.

Eat Better

Make just three simple changes:

  • Eat one or two additional fruits and vegetables each day
  • Consciously try to reduce the amount of trans fat and saturated fats in your diet
  • Consume no more than one or two alcoholic beverages per day.

Move

Maintaining a healthy weight may lower your risk for breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney cancers. And physical activity on its own may lower your risk of breast and colon cancers even more. Just 30 minutes a day is all it takes.

Use Protection

Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of the disease—and one of the most preventable. Protect yourself from the sun by avoiding its midday rays and tanning beds, by seeking shelter in the shade, by covering up and by using sunscreen.

Learn about the full spectrum of cancer care available at Palos Community Hospital.