Answers to Common Cancer Questions

Premier Physician Network’s doctors answer frequently asked questions about cancer.

What are BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes?

Dr. Thomas Heck discusses what BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that are supposed to produce proteins that help repair damaged DNA to make sure the cells’ genetic material is stable, according to the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI).

Women who have inherited the harmful mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are generally at a higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer, according to the NCI. Men with the gene mutations are at increased risk of breast cancer.

The risk of developing breast cancer with the BRCA1 gene mutation is higher than the risk of developing breast cancer with the BRCA2 mutation, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

Having these mutations also can increase women’s risk of developing fallopian tube cancer and peritoneal cancer, according the NCI. It can increase men’s risk of developing prostate cancer, and it can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer in both men and women.

For more information about the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, talk with your doctor.

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How do women know if they are a carrier of the BRCA gene?

Dr. Thomas Heck discusses how women can determine if they are BRCA gene carriers. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

There are a few different types of genetic tests available to determine if women are carriers for the either BRCA gene mutations. DNA – typically from a blood or saliva sample – is taken and tested, according to the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI).

For more information about the BRCA genes, talk with your doctor.

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What is the human papillomavirus (HPV)?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC). It is passed through genital contact.

At least 50 percent of people who are sexually active will have HPV some time during their lives. Many people don’t know they have it because most people have no symptoms, and it can go away without causing any health problems, according to the Food and Drug AdministrationOff Site Icon (FDA).

You are more likely to get HPV, according to the FDA, if you have:

  • Many sexual partners
  • A sexual partner who has had many other partners
  • Sex at an early age

For more information about HPV, talk with your doctor.

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What determines if HPV will cause cervical cancer?

HPV can cause cervical cancer and other cancers, including cancer of the anus, back of the throat, penis, vagina and vulva, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

Oftentimes it can take years or decades for cancer to develop after someone gets HPV, according to the CDC.

There is no way of knowing if HPV will cause you to develop cancer or not, according to the CDC. Having a weak immune system could make you less able to fight off HPV and more likely to end up with other health problems because of it.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how HPV develops into cancer.

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How does the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act apply to women who have had breast cancer?

The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) is a law that protects patients who choose to have breast reconstruction surgery because of a mastectomy, according to the U.S. Department of LaborOff Site Icon (DOL).

For example, if a woman has had breast cancer, according to the DOL, the WHCRA guarantees mastectomy benefits must include:

  • Reconstruction of the breast on which a mastectomy was performed
  • Surgery and reconstruction of the other breast to create a symmetrical look
  • Prostheses and physical complications at all stages of the mastectomy, including lymphedemas

Mastectomy benefits sometimes have a yearly deductible and could require the patient to pay co-insurance, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

Talk with your doctor for more information about the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act.

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What is breast reconstruction surgery?

Breast reconstruction surgery is a type of surgery for women who have had all or part of their breast removed, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

The surgery rebuilds the breast as a mound so it is similar in size and shape to what it was before it was removed, according to the ACS. Surgeons also can add the nipple and areola to the newly created breast.

Breast reconstruction surgery is performed by a plastic surgeon, and most women who have had a part, a whole or both breasts removed can have reconstruction, according to the ACS.

For more information about breast reconstruction surgery, talk with your doctor.

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What are the different types of breast reconstruction?

Dr. Hicks discusses types of breast reconstruction. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Breast reconstruction surgery is an option some women choose to rebuild the shape of the breast after some or all of the breast has been removed because of cancer.

There are two main types of breast reconstruction procedures that are most common, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

The ACS describes the procedures as follows:

  • Breast implants – These implants can be filled with saline, which is a sterile salt water, or with silicone gel. The saline implants have been used the longest. The gel implants look and feel more natural. This type of reconstruction surgery has a shorter recovery time and is the most common types in the U.S.
  • Tissue flap procedures – This uses your own tissue to reshape the breast. Tissue is removed from another part of the body, such as the stomach, back, or thighs. Recovery is longer for this surgery because there is more surgery in multiple locations on the body. However, they look and feel more natural than implants. This procedure can leave scars at the second surgical site.

In some cases, women decided the best option for them is a combination of these two procedures, according to the ACS.

Talk to your doctor for more information about different types of breast reconstruction.

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Who is a candidate for breast reconstruction?

Dr. Hicks discusses who could be a candidate for breast reconstruction. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Anyone who has had a lumpectomy or a mastectomy to remove breast tissue is a candidate for breast reconstruction surgery, according to Premier Physician Network’ (PPN) physicians.

A patient interested in breast reconstruction needs to be in generally good health and understand the possible risks of the surgery, said the PPN physicians.

Some women choose to wait awhile after their lumpectomy or mastectomy to have the surgery, according to the PPN physicians. There isn’t a specific cut-off date for when a woman can decide to have reconstruction surgery.

For more information about breast reconstruction surgery and who is a candidate for the procedure, talk with your doctor.

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How can a woman know if breast reconstruction is right for her?

Dr. Hicks discusses how a woman can know if breast reconstruction is right for her. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Breast reconstruction is something available to all women who have had a lumpectomy or a mastectomy because of breast cancer. However, choosing to have breast reconstruction surgery is a completely individual decision, according to the American Academy of Plastic SurgeonsOff Site Icon (AAPS).

The AAPS states that breast reconstruction surgery might be a good option for a woman who:

  • Does not have additional medical conditions or illnesses to cause problems with healing
  • Is able to cope well with her diagnosis and treatment
  • Has a positive outlook about body image
  • Has realistic goals of recovery

However, the way for one person to move forward might not be the same way another person chooses to move forward, according to the AAPS.

The best first step is to have a conversation with your primary care provider to discuss your options, health, and timing to decide what’s best for you.

For more information about how to decide if breast reconstruction is right for you, talk with your doctor.

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What are the current recommendations for prostate screenings?

If you are considering having a prostate cancer screening, the best place to start is talking with your doctor to find out what option might be best for you.

According to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS), the current recommendations for prostate screenings are as follows:

  • Beginning at age 40 – Screening should be done for men at high risk, with at least one first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) who had prostate cancer at an early age – younger than 65.
  • Beginning at age 45 – Men at high risk of developing prostate cancer should be screened, specifically including African American men with a first-degree relative who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age.
  • Age 50 and older – Men at average risk for prostate cancer and who are expected to live at least 10 more years should be screened.

If no prostate cancer is found during the screening, the ACS recommends men who have had a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test should be retested at the following times:

  • PSA less than 2.5 ng/mL – get retested every two years
  • PSA higher than 2.5 ng/mL – get tested annually

For more information about the recommendations for prostate cancer screenings, talk with your doctor.

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What steps can a man take to reduce his risk for prostate cancer?

Though there isn’t a way to directly prevent prostate cancer, there are a variety of risk factors that can be controlled to help reduce the risk, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

The ACS recommends:

  • be physically activeOff Site Icon
  • eat a well-balanced diet, including at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day
  • maintain a healthy weight

Premier Physician Network’ physicians say that following a heart-healthy diet promotes good prostate health.

Talk to your doctor for more information about what men can do to reduce their risk of prostate cancer.

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Do all colon polyps develop into cancer?

The majority of colon polyps will not become cancer, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal SurgeonsOff Site Icon (ASCRS).

However, having colon polyps removed reduces your future risk of developing colorectal cancer, according to the ASCRS.

Almost all polyps can be removed without surgery during a colonoscopy, which is an exam of the inside of the large intestine, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

For more information about whether all colon polyps develop into cancer, talk with your doctor.

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Does the presence of a colon polyp indicate a person has a higher risk for cancer?

Having a colon polyp can increase a person’s risk for cancer, according to Premier Health SpecialistsOff Site Icon (PPN) physicians.

Depending on the number of polyps found, their size, and how easily they were removed, it can be important to have follow up a colonoscopy more frequently to help detect colon cancer early in case future polyps develop, PPN physicians say.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about colon polyps indicating an increased risk for cancer.

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Are colon polyps common?

Colon polyps are a common finding during screening exams of the colon and rectum, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal SurgeonsOff Site Icon (ASCRS).

The polyps are abnormal growths and affect 20 percent to 30 percent of American adults, according to the ASCRS.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about how common colon polyps are.

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What are the different types of skin cancer?

Dr. Wilcher discusses types of skin cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

There are three main types of skin cancer, and each is named for the type of cell that becomes cancerous, according to the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI).

The three main types of skin cancer, according to the NCI, are:

  • Basal cell: The face is the most common place to find this type of skin cancer, which usually occurs in places that have been exposed to the sun. Basal cell skin cancer is the most common form for people with fair skin to have.
  • Melanoma: This type of cancer can happen on any surface skin, but on men it’s most common on the head, neck and between the shoulders and hips. In women, it’s most often on the lower legs or between the shoulders and hips. Melanoma is rare in people with dark skin, but if they do have it, it is usually found under the fingernails, under the toenails, on the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet.
  • Squamous cell: This is the most common form of cancer in people with dark skin, for whom it is usually found in places that are not frequently in the sun, such as the legs and feet. In fair skinned people, this cancer usually occurs on the head, face, ears and neck, which have been exposed to sun.

Skin cancer develops as regular skin cells start to grow abnormally, according to the American Academy of DermatologyOff Site Icon (AAD). Oftentimes, it develops on parts of the skin that have been exposed to the sun without proper protection, like sunscreen.

For more information about types of skin cancer, talk with your doctor.

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Who should be evaluated for skin cancer?

Dr. Wilcher discusses who should be evaluated for skin cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The Skin Cancer FoundationOff Site Icon (SCF) states that it is important for people to do a monthly head-to-toe exam of their skin so they can be aware of any changes that could be cancerous or precancerous.

Having a suspicious looking mole or skin growth, especially one that bleeds and/or does not heal, for example, would be an important reason to visit your primary care provider or dermatologist to be evaluated for skin cancer, according to Premier Physician Network’ (PPN) physicians.

Melanoma has some hereditary ties, so if you have a strong family history of melanoma, it is important to be watchful and keep a close eye on any skin changes, according to PPN physicians.

Being evaluated through a full skin exam by your physician every year can also help find and treat any issues early, according to the SCF.

For more information about skin cancer evaluations, talk with your doctor.

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What role does surgery play in the diagnosis or treatment of skin cancer?

Dr. Wilcher discusses the role surgery in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Surgery plays a large role in both the diagnosis and the treatment of skin cancer.

If your doctor suspects that you have skin cancer, the diagnosis is confirmed by having a surgical biopsy, in which part of the skin cancer is removed to be examined and tested, according to the Skin Cancer FoundationOff Site Icon (SCF).

Most of the time, skin cancer also is treated surgically by excision or through Mohs surgery, according to Premier Physician Network’ (PPN) physicians.

Mohs surgery has been found to be the most effective way to remove certain types of skin cancer in certain locations, such as basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, and also now is being used more and more often to treat certain forms of Melanoma, according to the SCF.

Talk to your doctor for more information about the role surgery plays in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.

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What are the screening recommendations for colon cancer?

Dr. Kenneth Reed discusses screening recommendations for colon cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Generally, it’s recommended that you be screened for colon cancer beginning at age 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

You should have repeat screenings at regular intervals decided on by you and your doctor. Usually, screenings are repeated every 10 years.

Depending on your family and personal history, you might need to start being screened before you turn 50.

Getting tested earlier – even as early as age 40 – can depend on if you:

  • Have had or a close relative has had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
  • Have an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Have a genetic syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome

For more information about screening recommendations for colon cancer, talk with your doctor.

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Explain the different types of colon cancer screening tests – fecal immunochemical test, fecal occult test, and colonoscopy.

Dr. Kenneth Reed discusses different types of colon cancer screening tests. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

There are a variety of options available to screen for colon cancer.

Three of those options, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC), include:

  • Colonoscopy – During this test, a doctor uses a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check inside your rectum and your entire colon for polyps or cancer. Polyps and even some cancers can be removed during the screening, if they’re found. A colonoscopy is also used as a follow-up test to other screenings if anything abnormal is found. Typically, if you are 50 or older, you should have a colonoscopy every 10 years.
  • Fecal immunochemical test – Known as the FIT, this test uses antibodies to find blood in your stool sample. This test mainly finds cancer, not polyps. It should be done annually.
  • Fecal occult test – With this screening, a chemical is used to test your stool sample to check if any blood is present. It mainly finds cancer, not polyps. Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say this is an older test that is not used as often as others because it can be less sensitive than other colon cancer screenings.

For more information about these and other colon cancer screenings, talk with your doctor.

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Why are some colon cancer screenings chosen over others?

Dr. Kenneth Reed discusses why to choose one colon cancer screening over another. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The main difference among the variety of colorectal cancer screenings available is that some tests only find existing cancer, while other tests find cancer and polyps, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

And with the second variety of tests, if a polyp is found, it can usually be removed during the screening to help prevent future colorectal cancer.

Talk with your doctor to learn more about the different types of screenings and decide which is right for you.

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How should I decide what type of colon cancer screening to use?

Dr. Kenneth Reed discusses how to decide which colon cancer screening to use. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Talking to your doctor – your primary care provider or your gastroenterologist – is the best way to decide what type of colon cancer screening is right for you, Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say.

Your personal preferences, medical conditions and resources all can play a part in which test might be best for you, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

Your doctor can give you more specific information about each type of screening and guide you toward which might be best for you.

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How common is male breast cancer?

Dr. Thomas Heck discusses how common male breast cancer is. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Breast cancer is 100 times less common among white men than white women, and 70 times less common among black men than black women, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

In 2018, an estimated 2,550 new cases of invasive male breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S., and about 480 men will die from breast cancer in the U.S.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how common male breast cancer is.

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How does breast cancer appear in men?

Dr. Thomas Heck discusses how breast cancer appears in men. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Male breast cancer appears with a lump or swelling in the breast or lymph node area of the chest, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

The lump can be painful but is often painless.

Other signs of breast cancer in men could include:

  • Nipple discharge
  • Nipple turning inward
  • Redness of the nipple or breast tissue
  • Scaling of the nipple or breast tissue
  • Skin dimpling or puckering

For more information about how breast cancer appears in men, talk with your doctor.

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Are breast cancer symptoms different in men than in women?

Dr. Thomas Heck discusses whether breast cancer symptoms are different in men than in women. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Symptoms of breast cancer in both men and women are similar, Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say.

The major difference is how much more common breast cancer is in women than in men.

Less than 1 percent of all breast cancer is male breast cancer, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

For more information about whether breast cancer symptoms are different in men and women, talk with your doctor.

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What can men do to reduce their risk of breast cancer?

Dr. Thomas Heck discusses how men can reduce their risk of breast cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Men can help lower their risk of breast cancer by maintaining a healthy body weight and limiting alcohol consumption, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

Exercise is also something men can control that can help reduce their risk of breast cancer, Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say.

To learn more about what men can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer, talk to your doctor.

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Thanks to these Premier Physician Network’s doctors for answering these common questions about cancer:

Additional Resources

This website provides general medical information that should be used for informative and educational purposes only. Information found here should not be used as a substitute for the personal, professional medical advice of your physician. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting a physician.

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