By Dr. Gerald B. Parker, III, M.D., J.D.
They are three simple words that can crush your world: you have cancer.
The unfortunate reality is that the statistics surrounding cancer are staggering. In 2015 alone, it is estimated that approximately 1.7 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed. Additionally, it is the second most common cause of death in the United States, accounting for almost one out of every four deaths. It is predicted that around 589,430 Americans will die from cancer just this year. Whether the cancer is caused by external or internal factors, it still has the capacity to be debilitating and life threatening.
While these statistics may seem terrifying, the good news is that our medical system has come a long way in how we both diagnose and treat cancer. There are various screening tests and treatment options available from some of the best doctors and medical teams in the world, and patients in the United States are beating cancer every single day.
Could the doctors have caught my wife’s cancer earlier?
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of cases that could have been handled differently. There are spouses and family members throughout the country who have lost important women in their lives to cancer. In fact, the risk for women in the United States of developing some type of cancer is a little more than one in three. With so many medical advances and knowledge about the prevalence of cancer, individuals have the right to know why the women they love are still dying from diseases that can be detected and treated.
The ultimate questions then become: Was there an earlier point in time where my wife’s cancer could have and should have been detected? If the diagnosis had been made sooner, could the prognosis and outcome have been dramatically different?
Which types of cancers can be detected through screening tests?
For both men and women, one of the best ways to stay proactive in detecting and treating cancer is to follow your doctor’s recommendations to have certain screening tests performed periodically. When cancer is caught early on, treatments are often more effective, and spreading of the disease can be prevented.
The most talked about screening test today is the mammogram. While women are encouraged to perform monthly breast self-exams to help detect any changes in their breasts or nipples, one of the main purposes of a mammogram is to detect breast cancer before it is causing any types of symptoms, including a noticeable lump. Early detection through this screening test can lead to finding and diagnosing breast cancer earlier than if the patient had waited for any symptoms to appear. Additionally, breast cancer found early tends to be smaller and not have spread outside of the breast. Regular mammograms are suggested for women beginning around age 40.
Cervical cancer can be detected through the Pap test. This screening test is typically performed during a woman’s pelvic exam with her gynecologist, where the doctor will use a special instrument to gently scrape or brush cells from the cervix to analyze for cancer or pre-cancer.
Screening tests for colorectal cancer are performed by looking for fecal occult blood, the presence of blood in the GI tract that is not visible to the eye but is chemically detectable. Sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies are also available to help detect colorectal cancer early on.
These are three types of cancers where screening tests have the ability to detect the disease, regardless of whether or not the patient is experiencing any type of symptoms yet.
Were previous tests correctly interpreted?
Unfortunately, there are incidents in the medical world where cancer diagnoses are missed. If evidence of breast cancer was not recognized on a mammogram or a prior colonoscopy was not fully diagnostic because of inadequate bowel prep, you have every right to be concerned and upset. These are instances that could have resulted in earlier treatment and successful outcomes if the initial screening tests had been correctly interpreted.
When should you take action?
Losing a loved one to cancer is devastating, but the pain can be even worse when you find out that this situation may have ended differently if more attention had been paid to the screening tests or symptoms. If your wife went to the doctor for months or years for the same type of pain without the cancer ever being discovered, it is time for you to start asking questions. If the screening tests results clearly indicated warning signs that were missed, it may be time for you to consider taking action. Call us today to discuss your options.