McConnors corner
Get Screened For Cancer
By Sean McConnor
Jun 22, 2008 - 9:23:46 AM

I don't know if you have ever passed the VA Hospital in West Los Angeles. Chances are if you live on the West Side, Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, you have passed the big white building with "West Los Angeles VA Medical Center" on the front, while you were going westbound on Wilshire Boulevard.

Last week at this VA facility, its cancer center presented a "Cancer Awareness Day" to highlight some interesting facts on cancer. One of the speakers was Dr. James Tomlinson, who is a surgeon and director of the cancer center at the VA.

Dr. Tomlinson, in his talk, mentioned our susceptibility to cancer as we get older. Subsequently, men and women should be screened for a variety of possible diseases as they age because this year alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that almost 1.5 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer, and over half a million will die of it.

Of course, nothing in life is free, so even screening has risks while potentially diagnosing cancer.  Some screenings, such a colonoscopy or a prostate biopsy, have a risk of perforation and bleeding, respectively. I know that some women complain about mammograms not necessarily being pleasant experiences either, but consider the alternatives. Failure to treat or identify a problem with the prostate gland may lead to prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland) or prostate cancer, which would involve surgery and radiation.  And, not identifying lumps in the breast could lead to removal of the breast or the spread of cancer to the lungs and then to the brain. So, you have a risk versus a potentially nasty and fatal problem.

Getting back to the VA Hospital, the Dept. of Medicine has recently instituted an extensive screening for colon cancer.  This program involves thousands of veterans, and, because of its sheer volume, the VA has contracted private outside facilities to help screen all of these patients. Afterwards, the VA itself will follow-up, accordingly, for those veterans diagnosed with the disease.

I know what you are thinking: What man wants to be prodded by a doctor? What woman is interested in being manipulated by doctors, whether female or male? Well, no one I know of is fond of going to the doctor, period. However, if you can get screened, get an early diagnosis, and get treatment, you have a better chance at beating the diseases we may get as we age.

The alternate is not pleasant. Have you ever heard a man with prostate cancer screaming in pain because he has run out of pain medicine? I have; the sound still rings in my head and my heart years later.

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