October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Hispanic women holding breast cancer awareness ribbonsEach October women are reminded of the importance of early breast cancer detection.  Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women, following skin cancers.  A mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer in the early stages, when it is easier to treat.  Women of any age can develop breast cancer, so it’s important to be aware of risk factors and proactive about health care decisions.

Most women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease.  However, a woman’s risk does increase if she has a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, sister) with breast cancer.  Having multiple other family members with the disease on either the mother’s or father’s side of the family also increases the risk.  Given this family history, even very young women can develop breast cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), other risk factors for developing breast cancer include the following:

Age–  The risk increases after age 50.

Taking Hormones–  Hormone replacement therapy during menopause can raise the risk.

Reproductive history–  Having a first pregnancy after age 30 or never being pregnant increases risk.  Early menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after age 55) exposes women to hormones longer, increasing their risk.

Dense breasts–  Dense breast tissue makes cancers harder to detect and raises the risk level.

Genetic mutations–  Inherited changes to specific genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 increases risk.

The best breast cancer screening tool is a mammogram.  It can detect cancers that are too small to be felt or cause symptoms.  The American Cancer Society recommends that women of average risk begin annual screening mammograms at age 45.  Some doctors recommend mammograms at age 40, depending on risk factors.  After age 54, a woman who has not had any abnormal mammograms can continue to have a mammogram every other year through age 74.  Women who have higher than average risk factors for the disease should follow the recommendations of their health care provider.

Protect Your Skin and Eyes from Summer Sun

Protecting your skin from sun damageMost of us enjoy outdoor activities during the hot summer months.  However, exposure to the sun for as little as 15 minutes can damage skin and eyes.  The sun gives off harmful radiation in the form of ultraviolet (UV) rays that are not visible and are present even on cloudy days.  Exposure to UVA and UVB rays is a major risk factor for most skin cancers.  People with fair or light skin are more susceptible to sun damage, but darker-skinned people are also affected.

UVA rays can cause long-term damage to skin and premature aging.  Effects from overexposure to the sun include wrinkles, dark spots, pre-cancerous actinic keratoses, and some skin cancers.  UVB rays are responsible for sunburns and are believed to cause most skin cancers.  Ultraviolet rays are stronger in the spring and summer months.  The rays are more damaging during the hottest part of the day, between 10 am and 4 pm.  They can reflect off surfaces like water, sand, and pavement.  Cloud cover lessens the exposure to UV rays, but they can still penetrate clouds.  Weather reports often list a UV Index, which measures how strong the UV light will be.  The higher the number, the greater the risk.

Our eyes are also at risk from exposure to UV rays.  protect eyes and skin from sunEye problems related to sun damage include cataracts, macular degeneration, sunburn of the eye surface, and cancers of the eyelids.

How do we protect our skin and eyes from sun damage?  Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher on any exposed skin.  Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming.  Wear a hat with a broad brim to protect the face, ears, scalp, and neck.  Avoid straw hats with holes that allow the sun to get through.  Long sleeve shirts and long pants protect the arms and legs.  UPF rated clothing offers protection from UVA and UVB rays.  Stay in the shade when possible.  To protect the eyes, wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays.  Wrap around sunglasses work best to protect from the side.  Don’t forget sunglasses for your children.  Their eyes need protection from UV radiation too.  Sun damage to the eyes and skin can be cumulative from childhood.

Men’s Health Month

Men's Health and FitnessJune is a month to celebrate men.  Not only is June known for Father’s Day, but it is also recognized as Men’s Health Month.  It is a time to raise awareness of preventable health issues and an opportunity to encourage the men in our lives to get regular health checkups.  Here are some ways to promote better health for the men we love including husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.

Get a physical–  On average, adult men do not see their healthcare providers as often as women do.  They may wait until there is a real problem.  Regular physical exams enable the physician to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol levels, and weight.  A physical allows for routine blood work and PSA screenings for prostate cancer to be performed.  Early detection is key when treating such health conditions as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Encourage regular exercise–  Regular exercise has many health benefits.  Exercise helps with weight reduction, helps maintain strong bones and muscles, increases energy levels, decreases stress, aids in relaxation, can improve brain function, improves mood, enhances sexual function, and can reduce the risk of developing chronic disease.

Encourage healthy eating habits–  Heathy eating is a lifestyle choice.  The benefits include avoiding excess weight gain and boosting energy levels.  Healthy eating can prevent major health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes.

A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low fat dairy products.  Avoid sugary drinks, processed baked goods, fried foods, white bread and processed meats.  Many of these items have high levels of sugar, salt, and trans fats while offering little nutritional value.

Encourage the men in your life to take care of their physical health and well-being so they can live a long and happy life.

Five Teen Health Concerns

Teen Eating DisorderAs children move into their teenage years, there are many health concerns that may affect them.  Teens deal with peer pressure and stress, issues of weight and body image, problems of drug and alcohol use, and questions about puberty, sex, and relationships.  They may be hesitant to discuss these concerns with parents or their family doctor.  Open lines of communication may help teens work through some of these concerns.  Here are five common health concerns of teenagers.

Eating Disorders and Obesity – Obesity is a significant concern for children and adolescents.  According to a report in American Pediatrics, obesity puts them at risk for diabetes and heart disease.  Overweight children and teens are less likely to participate in a sport or get adequate exercise.  Changes in lifestyle and diet can help promote weight loss and improved health. 

Many eating disorders develop during adolescence and can have serious health implications.  Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia (binging and purging), and binge-eating disorder.  It is important to seek treatment early.

Lack of Physical Activity – As teenagers spend more time on their Smartphone, computer, or watching TV, they tend to be less physically active.  Sedentary lifestyles lead to an increase in health issues including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  Teens may need to be encouraged to exercise more or participate in a sport.  Parents can set a good example by being physically active themselves.

Sexually Transmitted Disease and Pregnancy – Teens need to be aware of the risks and complications of STDs and how to protect themselves.  Parents should ensure their teen has had the HPV vaccine to protect against human papillomavirus.  This common virus can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and the back of the throat.  Teens who are sexually active should understand the use of contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancy.

Drug and Alcohol Use – Alcohol use by teenagers can lead to other risky behaviors including drunk driving and unsafe sex.  Marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines continue to be commonly abused drugs among teenagers.  In addition, abuse of prescription drugs, particularly painkillers, is on the rise.  Smoking among US adolescents has declined in recent years, just as it has in the general population.  Those who do smoke develop more respiratory illnesses.  Many teens are unaware that use of e-cigarettes or vaping is also unhealthy.

Suicide – The third leading cause of death for teenagers is suicide.  There are many contributing factors including family problems, loneliness, isolation, depression, and substance or alcohol abuse.  More males than females are likely to choose suicide, and many were reluctant to seek help.  Good family communication can help.

How Do Triglyceride Levels Affect My Health?

Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood.  Most people are familiar with cholesterol levels but may have less knowledge about how triglycerides affect their health.  Triglycerides are stored in fat cells and released when the body needs energy between meals.  When we eat more calories than our body can burn, the level of triglycerides can become too high.  This can lead to serious health issues.

Anyone at any age can develop high triglyceride levels.  However, there are certain risk factors unique to women.  Triglycerides can be elevated during pregnancy, by using birth control pills with estrogen, and by hormone replacement therapy.  Certain medications can also raise triglyceride levels.

TriglyceridesA high triglyceride level can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.  It can contribute to hardening and thickening of the walls of the arteries.  High triglycerides can also lead to inflammation of the pancreas.  There are often no visible symptoms of high triglyceride levels.  Routine blood tests, usually done along with cholesterol testing, will determine triglyceride levels.  These tests are sometimes called a lipid profile or lipid panel.  A normal triglyceride level is measured at less than 150 mg/dL; high triglycerides are between 200-499 mg/dL; very high levels are 500 mg/dL and over.

Lifestyle changes can sometimes lower triglyceride levels naturally.  Healthy eating habits can make a big difference.  Avoid foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, and sugary carbohydrates.  Choose low fat dairy and lean meats.  Eat fish twice a week.  Choose whole grains and foods high in fiber.  Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids including salmon, tuna, kale, spinach, and brussel sprouts can help lower triglycerides.  Other lifestyle changes that are beneficial include exercising more, losing excess weight, and decreasing alcohol use.

Your doctor can monitor triglyceride levels through regular checkups and routine blood work.  If lifestyle changes have not been enough to keep triglycerides under control, medications can be prescribed.

Top Men’s Health Issues

Men's Health and FitnessAccording to statistics compiled by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), women outlive men by an average of five years.  Men typically do not see a doctor for regular checkups as often as women.  When men do see a doctor, their health problems are usually of a more serious nature.  Awareness, health screenings, and early diagnosis of many diseases can help men live longer.  Here are some of the top health issues affecting men.

Cardiovascular Disease

The American Heart Association says that 1 in 3 men have some form of cardiovascular disease.  It’s the leading cause of death in men and includes heart attack and stroke.  While hereditary factors or family history of the disease are factors beyond our control, other risk factors are impacted by lifestyle choices.  Stress, obesity, and lack of exercise all contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.  High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels should be monitored and controlled.  Sometimes diet and exercise are enough to reduce the risk, but medication may be necessary.

Diabetes 

Type 2, or adult onset diabetes, is on the rise in this country.  Lifestyle changes can reduce the risk.  A diet rich in fiber and heart healthy fats can help to control blood sugar levels.  Regular exercise will help keep weight under control.  Untreated diabetes can lead to kidney disease, nerve damage, stroke, heart attack, vision problems, and sexual impotence.

Lung Cancer 

Lung cancer remains a leading cause of cancer deaths in men.  Those who smoke should quit.  There are no effective screening tests for lung cancer currently available.  Lung cancer can spread to other parts of the body even before it shows up on an x-ray.  Advanced lung cancer is difficult to treat.

Prostate Problems

Men are more likely to develop prostate problems as they age.  An enlarged prostate can lead to frequent urination or a slow or weak urine stream.  Having an enlarged prostate does not increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.  A doctor can perform a prostate screening test during a routine medical exam.  A blood test can screen for prostate specific antigen (PSA).  Some types of prostate cancer are slow growing and unlikely to spread.  Other types are more aggressive.  Treatment depends on the type of prostate cancer.

Osteoporosis – The Silent Disease

Osteoporosis patientOsteoporosis is a disease affecting approximately 10 million Americans.  The disease causes the loss of minerals from the bones, leaving them vulnerable to fractures.  Osteoporosis is more common as we age, because new bone is not being made as quickly as old bone is breaking down.  Although both men and women can develop the disease, it is more common in women.

There are no early symptoms of osteoporosis, so it is sometimes called the silent disease.  Many people do not realize they have bone loss until they experience a fracture.  Later symptoms of osteoporosis include loss of height, a stooped posture, back pain, and bone breakage.  The most frequent fractures occur in the hips, wrist, and spine.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include age, having a smaller frame, family history, white or Asian women past menopause, having thyroid or bowel disease, and taking certain medications.  The reduced level of estrogen in post-menopausal women is a strong risk factor.  Long term use of prednisone and cortisone also increases risk, as does thyroid hormone medication.

Lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.  A diet of calcium rich foods including dairy, salmon, and dark green leafy vegetables promotes bone health.  Calcium supplements may be appropriate if someone does not get enough calcium in their diet.  Vitamin D improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium.  Eating protein helps the body build strong bones.  Maintaining appropriate body weight is important.  Regular exercise can help slow bone loss.  A combination of strength training, weight-bearing, and balance exercises works best.

The National Institutes of Health recommends women should have a bone density scan at age 65.  The scan estimates bone mass and determines whether bones are thinning or weakening.  If bone density is good, women should be rescreened in 2-3 years.  The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that anyone who breaks a bone after age 50 have a bone density scan.

There is no cure for osteoporosis.  Treatment of the disease includes lifestyle changes such as modifying diet and exercise routines.  Doctors may prescribe medications that slow the breakdown of bone or help promote bone formation.

Who Should Receive the Pneumonia Vaccine?

WPneumoniahat is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the air sacs in the lungs.  One or both lungs may be affected.  Pneumonia is usually caused by bacteria or viruses but can sometimes be caused by fungi.  It is a serious infection for infants, the elderly, those with chronic health issues, and people with compromised immune systems.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain when coughing or breathing.  The infection may cause confusion in elderly patients as well as a body temperature that is lower than normal.  Pneumonia can follow a cold or the flu.  Bacterial and viral pneumonia can be spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing.

Who Should Get a Pneumonia Shot?

It is not necessary for healthy adults under the age of 65 to get pneumonia vaccines.  It is recommended that adults age 65 and older receive the vaccines because it is harder to fight infections as we age.  People with weakened immune systems should also be vaccinated.  This includes those with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, lung diseases, and asthma.  Cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments should be vaccinated.  Smokers should also receive the vaccine.Pneumonia shot

There are two types of pneumonia vaccines that protect against different types of pneumonia.  The PCV13 shot , which protects against the most serious types of pneumonia, is given first.  A year or more later, the PPSV23 shot is given to protect against additional types of pneumonia.  There are no serious side effects from either shot, and people cannot get pneumonia from the shot itself.  The vaccines are 50-70% effective, and they protect for years.  People receiving the shots at age 65 and older will most likely be protected for the rest of their lives.

Speak with your doctor to see if the pneumonia vaccine is right for you.

Tips to Stay Healthy During Holiday Travel

Staying healthy in the airportRecord numbers of Americans will travel to visit family and friends this holiday season.  AAA predicts that more than 54 million of us will travel more than 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  Another 100 million people are predicted to travel over the Christmas to New Year’s period.  Travel can be stressful on our bodies, upsetting our normal routines and exposing us to illnesses.  Here are some tips for staying healthy so that you can enjoy the holiday festivities away from home.

Air Travel

Traveling by air exposes us to large crowds and lots of germs.  Use hand sanitizer and carry disinfectant wipes to clean tray tables, arm rests, and seat belt buckles.  Avoid bathrooms on planes, if possible.  Many airport restrooms have less germs because they are cleaned more frequently.  Studies have shown that TSA security bins are loaded with germs, so wash hands thoroughly after clearing security.

Get Enough Rest

Lack of sleep can leave our bodies vulnerable to viruses.  Try to maintain your regular sleep schedule while traveling.  If you do get sick, rest will help in your recovery.

Stay Hydrated

Low humidity levels in planes and heated rooms dry out mucous membranes, making it easier to pick up germs.  Drink plenty of water.  Remember that caffeinated beverages and alcohol actually dehydrate the body and are not good substitutes for water.

Eat Healthy        

Maintain healthy eating habits to keep your immune system strong.  Avoid the temptation to overeat at holiday gatherings.  Choose healthy snacks and eat holiday treats in moderation to avoid putting on extra pounds.  Fast food is often convenient when traveling but opt for a salad rather than a burger and fries.  Limit alcoholic beverages, as they add extra calories.

Stay Active

Try to stay physically active even if you are not able to maintain your regular workout routine.  Take a brisk walk or utilize the hotel fitness center.  Exercise gives us more energy and burns those extra holiday calories we’ve consumed.

Early Detection of Breast Cancer is Key

breast cancer awareness monthBreast cancer is one of the most significant women’s health concerns.  After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women.  The odds of getting breast cancer are 1 in 8.  A small percentage of women have a family history of the disease.  This means a first degree relative- mother, sister, daughter- has had breast cancer, so there is a genetic risk factor.  But many women have no history of breast cancer in their family.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer.  However, women can minimize their risk through certain lifestyle choices.  Being overweight, alcohol consumption, and not being physically active can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.  Using some birth control methods with hormones and post-menopausal hormone therapy with estrogen may also increase a woman’s risk.  Other risk factors are not as easily controlled.  White women have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer as compared to African American women.  No pregnancies or a late pregnancy adds to the risk.  Previous radiation treatments to the chest to treat other cancers and having dense, fibrous breast tissue are additional risk factors.

Early detection and treatment are key in fighting the disease.  Women should recognize any changes in their breasts including a lump that can be felt, nipple discharge, nipple turning inward, dimpling or puckering of breast skin, and redness or scaliness of the skin.  All of these symptoms should be checked by a physician.

Clinical breast exams and breast self-exams are not substitutes for a mammogram, which can detect cancer before it can be felt.  Current mammogram guidelines from the American Cancer Society are that women at average risk for breast cancer should have yearly mammograms by age 45.  Women may choose to begin mammograms as early as age 40.  At age 55, women who have had normal mammograms can change to every other year or continue yearly, if desired.  Women at higher risk should discuss these options with their doctor.

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