What is Cancer?

We are made of trillions of cells that grow and divide. Cancer starts when our cells begin to grow and divide uncontrollably, having the potential to also spread through different parts of the body.

Breast Cancer & Breast Health

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, next to skin cancers. In 2021, it is estimated that about 30% of all new women cancer diagnosis will be breast cancer. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Although breast cancer in men is rare (incidence of 1.3 per 100,000 as compared to incidence rate in women of 129.3 per 100,000), it can still occur. Learn more about breast cancer in men.

Research has made strides in identifying key risk factors of breast cancer. Health providers will use the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool based on several key risk factors to assess the risk a woman may develop breast cancer within the next 5 years or within her lifetime. Learn more about breast cancer risk factors.

While breast cancer affects all women, Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer. In fact, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Black women. There are multiple reasons that contribute to this disparity. Studies have shown that Black women tend to be diagnosed with breast cancer at the median age of 58, which is younger than the median age of 61 for all races. Black women also tend to have a higher rate of triple negative breast cancer, which is more aggressive and can have higher fatality rates. Other factors that contribute to this disparity include difference in stage at diagnosis, pre-existing conditions, and structural barriers to access, adherence, and response to cancer treatment. Read more about the systemic barriers related to screening, access, and treatment for breast cancer among Black women.

The incidence of breast cancer is strongly associated with age—as we get older, our risk for developing breast cancer increases. Screening and early detection are tools that can be beneficial to detecting breast cancer before it causes any warning signs or symptoms. Read more about the screening guidelines (mammogram) for women at *average breast cancer risk and what to expect during mammogram screenings. Additionally, it is also important to perform a breast self-exam once a month. If you notice any abnormal lumps, nipple discharge, or other symptoms, visit your health care provider, or the Nurse Practitioner at the Wellness Center, immediately.

Watch a video illustrating the correct way to perform a breast self-exam

The Wellness Center also has free educational brochures.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is the opening from the vagina to the uterus. Women of all ages are at risk for cervical cancer. The main cause of cervical cancer is the long-lasting infection with specific strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Cervical cancer in the fourth most common gynecologic cancer for women across the globe.

According to the CDC, cervical cancer usually occurs in women over 30 years of age. HPV-associate cancers disproportionally affect women based on racial/ethnic background. Incidence rates of cervical cancer among Hispanic women (9.3 per 100,000 persons) and non-Hispanic Black women (8.1 per 100,000 persons) is higher compared with the incidence of cervical cancer among white women (7.2 per 100,000 persons). This disparity is multifactorial. It can be attributed to the lack of screening, inequities in access to health care, and implicit/explicit bias from health providers.

Prevention is Key

Vaccination is the best way to protect against cancers caused by certain strains of HPV. Learn more about HPV vaccines and its risks and benefits.

Early detection screening impacts the 5-year survival rate for people with cervical cancer. If detected early, the 5-year survival rate for people with cervical cancer in 92%. Cervical cancer screening is used to find changes in the cells of the cervix that could be cancerous or could lead to cancer.

Screening includes Pap smears (cervical cytology), testing for HPV, or both.

  • The Pap smear looks at your cervical cells under a microscope for any abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer. The Pap smear has helped decrease the number of American women with cervical cancer by about 75% in the past 50 years.
  • An HPV test detects the presence of the virus, particularly the strains that are known to cause cervical cancer. It’s an early warning system. Long-lasting infection with HPV can lead to cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and cervix.

Learn more about cervical cancer screenings , its risks and benefits, and what to expect when scheduling your screening appointment.

Colorectal Cancer

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer refers to cancer that begins in either the colon or the rectum. The majority of colorectal cancers develop over time from polyps, which are growths that can change after an accumulation of mutations (abnormalities).

Not accounting for skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women. The lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer is 4.3% for men and 4.0% for women.

Colorectal Cancer rates are higher in African Americans and rising in younger people. In the U.S., African Americans are about 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40% more likely to die from colon cancer complications than other racial and ethnic groups. Black women and men experience greater obstacles to cancer prevention, screening, treatment, and survival. This also includes racial disparities that include lower paying jobs, less health care coverage, lack of access to healthy and affordable foods, low-quality housing and education, and unsafe environment that include policing and living conditions impacted by environmental racism.

Importance of Screening

The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk for colorectal cancer begin screening at age 45. People with higher risk of developing colorectal cancer (risk factors) should consult their healthcare provider about early screening.

Several tests are used to screen for colorectal cancer:

  • Colonoscopy: the best procedure to check for colorectal polyps and cancer. During the procedure, polyps can be removed and sent to pathology for examination. It is considered a safe procedure with few risks. Read more about colonoscopy.
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT): both tests look for blood in stool that is not visible. The stool sample is collected and analyzed in the lab for traces of blood.
  • Fecal DNA test: detects genetic mutations and blood products in the stool

Read more about other screening tests

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or The American Cancer Society websites.

Ovarian Cancer

 

Ovarian cancer is a disease that originates in the ovaries. The ovaries are responsible for the production of hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and egg (germ cell) production. In 2021, it is estimated that more than 21,000 cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed. Of those diagnosed, 13,7770 women are expected to die. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, and it is the deadliest out of all gynecological cancers. One of the biggest challenges with ovarian cancer is the lack of early detection screenings. Only 20% of all cases are found early. Late-stage ovarian cancer has a survival rate as low as 28%.

Read about risk factors associated with ovarian cancer.  

Since there are no reliable screening or diagnostic tests for ovarian cancer, it is important to know the signs and symptoms. Often, symptoms don’t appear until the disease is into advanced stages. Some of the signs and symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble waiting or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary frequency
  • Back pain
  • Menstrual Changes
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Fatigue

Visit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance or the CDC website to learn more about ovarian cancer, risk factors, diagnostics, and treatment.

Skin Cancer

From Dr. Mark Horowitz, MD, Health Services Advisory Council/C.U.N.Y.:

Despite increased awareness of skin cancer, the incidence of the disease continues to increase.

Knowledge is power, so here are some quick facts on skin cancer and how to prevent it: 

  • Skin cancer is not a single disease, rather a grouping of diseases. Nearly all types of skin cancer are caused by or made worse by exposure to ultraviolet light, most commonly the sun. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are skin cancers commonly found in older adults after many years of sun exposure. Although they rarely spread or are fatal, they can be extensive and require disfiguring surgery to remove. Malignant melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer characterized by the appearance of a pigmented mole and rapid spread to other parts of the body. The risk of death from malignant melanoma, while lower than in the past, remains frighteningly high.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Practicing "safe sun" every time you are outdoors is essential. Avoid lengthy exposure to sun, wear clothes that protect exposed areas, including the face and head (a wide-brimmed hat is ideal) and use a water-resistant sunscreen with and SPF of 30 or higher to reduce risk.
  • Sunscreens need not be expensive. Look for sunscreens with the ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Generic sunscreens containing these ingredients are usually very affordable
  • Apply sunscreen often. Even if you choose a water-resistant sunscreen, apply after swimming or if you sweat. If you remain in the sun, reapply every two hours
  • Remember to see your health care practitioner if you find a new mole on your body or if an existing mole changes color, size or bleeds. These may be signs of skin cancer.

Please keep in mind that although this advice is under “Summer Health”, skin cancer and sun exist regardless of season and preventive measures should be continued throughout the year. Wearing protective clothing such as broad brimmed hats is an additional preventive measure.

Testicular Cancer

Testicular cancer is a disease that occurs when malignant cells develop in the tissues of a testicle. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between ages 20 and 35. Testicular cancer is not common, with about 1 of every 250 males developing testicular cancer at some point in their lifetime. A man’s lifetime risk of dying form testicular cancer is even lower at 1 in about 5,000. More statistics about testicular cancer can be found at the American Cancer Society website.

Read more about risk factors of developing testicular cancer and symptoms associated with it.

Since some testicular cancers are asymptomatic until advanced stage, most doctors recommend that all men examine their testicles monthly after puberty. If experiencing any symptoms or notice changes during your testicular self examination, the American Cancer Society advises men to see a doctor right away for a consult.

Testicular Self-Exam

The best way to examine your testicles is during or after a bath/shower, when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed.

  1. Stand in front of a mirror and look for any changes, especially swelling, in the appearance of your scrotum (the sac that holds the testes). It's useful to do this immediately after a shower or bath, when the heat of the water relaxes the scrotum.
  2. Rotate each testicle between your fingers and thumbs (fingers on the underside the testicle and thumbs on the top).
  3. Examine the rest of your scrotum's contents (especially the epididymis) for any changes, particularly hard, small lumps. The epididymis can feel like a cord or rope, and may seem like a lump at first, however it is a normal structure; become familiar with the feel of the epididymis so you can notice actual lumps if they appear.
  4. Be on the lookout for hard lumps, masses, or nodules. Often cancerous lumps are painless, but pain can be a symptom of cancer as well as a number of other infections or conditions, so keep note of any discomfort.

It's normal for one testicle to be a little larger than the other, and it's normal for your testicles and scrotum to look a bit different from those of your friends or male family members. The key is knowing what's normal for you and keeping an eye out for any changes.

For informative videos on how to perform a testicular self-exam click here and here.