The Ericksons

Asymptomatic


The earlier cancer is detected, the more easily and effectively it can be treated. Asymptomatic, or “quiet” cancer often spreads, unchecked to other locations (i.e. metastatic). This is why some forms of cancer have a reputation for being especially deadly.

Some cancers make themselves known early on because of a side effect that sends a patient to the doctor. An example would be esophageal cancer. Because of a tumor on the esophagus, swallowing would become difficult and cause a patient to go to the doctor.

Some cancers that have few or no symptoms until the cancer is already advanced. Because of the asymptomatic presentation of these cancers, they are among the deadliest.:

  • Lung Cancer
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Cancer of the Tail of the Pancreas

Often, the earliest symptoms of cancer are easily dismissed as a run-of-the-mill ache or illness (like indigestion or the flu). It’s not practical, or even safe, to run testing because of every minor symptom. When there are risk factors, however, they shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly.

Our Story

In October of 2012, Dan was a healthy, vibrant man of 51. The day after he helped a friend install a garage door, he had a back ache that he dismissed as a pulled muscle. If he had gone to the doctor, they would have treated him for back strain—and rightly so. He had no risks for lung cancer. He’d never been a smoker. He’d never worked with asbestos. He was asymptomatic—no cough, no problems breathing. It was just a back ache.

The next day, he felt hard, enlarged lymph nodes. The cancer was no longer asymptomatic. But, it was too late. Within 2 weeks, he was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The back ache was cancer that had spread to his spine.

Early Screenings

Early stage breast and colon cancer are also often asymptomatic. Fortunately, there are screening recommendations that increase the likelihood of discovering cancer. Cancer screening and prevention has led to an overall decline in cancer mortality rates. Primary care doctors are the first line of defense, reminding their patients to get screened at the appropriate time, based on their individual age and risk factors.

The following are guidelines for basic cancer screenings.

Between the ages of 21 and 29

Women should have a PAP screen done every 3 years, even if you’ve been vaccinated against HPV. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor.  Men should discuss their risk of colon cancer with their primary care provider.

Between the ages of 30 and 39

Women should have PAP and HPV tests every 5 years even if you’ve been vaccinated against HPV, unless you’ve had a total hysterectomy unrelated to cervical cancer. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor.  Men should discuss their risk of colon cancer with their primary care provider.

Between the ages of 40-49

Women should have PAP and HPV tests every 5 years even if you’ve been vaccinated against HPV, unless you’ve had a total hysterectomy unrelated to cervical cancer. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor. You may elect to have an annual mammogram. At age 45, yearly mammograms are recommended. Men should discuss their risk of colon and prostate cancer (and screening) with their primary care provider.

Between the ages of 50 and 64

Women should have PAP and HPV tests every 5 years even if you’ve been vaccinated against HPV, unless you’ve had a total hysterectomy unrelated to cervical cancer. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor. You may elect to have an annual mammogram. From ages 50-54, yearly mammograms are recommended. At age 55, you can switch to mammograms every 2 years. You should also begin testing for colon cancer at age 50 with a test and frequency recommended by your doctor. Men should discuss their risk of colon and prostate cancer (and screening) with their primary care provider. Both men and women should talk with their doctor about their lung cancer risk and whether low-dose CT scans should be done.

Age 65 and older,

Women with a history of serious cervical pre-cancer should continue testing until 20 years after diagnosis. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor. have mammograms every 2 years. Testing for colon cancer is recommended. Men colon cancer testing is recommended. If you are expected to live longer than 10 years, discuss your risk of prostate cancer (and screening) with your primary care provider. Both men and women should talk with their doctor about their lung cancer risk and whether low-dose CT scans should be done, especially if you have a history of smoking.

Your Dentist

Your dentist will also evaluate you for oral and tongue cancers at your annual cleaning and exam.

The asymptomatic nature of many cancers.

The asymptomatic nature of many cancers is the reason so many cancer patients aren’t diagnosed until it’s too late. Men tend to be at greater risk because they put off seeing their doctor.

  • Get regular screenings.
  • Reduce risks by living a healthy lifestyle.
  • Don’t ignore symptoms.
  • Know your family history and tell your doctor.

Check back on April 3rd to read my next A to Z Challenge post: Biopsy. An please share this post on your social media. By doing so, you will raise awareness of asymptomatic cancer. You may even save a life!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, August 2016. Photo By Jim Bovin

 

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