Early cancer screens can save your life

Sometimes when we feel healthy, wealthy and wise, we tend to think we are immortal, especially if we are young.

But as we get older, we may still feel like we are in good health, and we still tend to put health on the back burner and pursue the wealthy and wise routines. This could be a big mistake of false security.

Early detection of any health concerns can reduce the illness, risk or severity, and certainly affect the cure. But the “Big C” — cancer — can sneak up on us in unexpected ways.

Modern medical technology can detect cancer in its earliest stages and save lives. But, the disease must be detected early.

Men

For men cancer can often strike the prostate, frequently without any warning. One day you feel fine, and the next day the doctor tells you, that you have prostate cancer.

We men must monitor the prostate, and other areas of our bodies, frequently. Frequent urination and urine flow rates can be warning signs of possible problems.

For the prostrate, a simple annual blood analysis will tell us our PSA count, which is a test for the cancer “markers” in our blood. If the number is elevated, more frequent future checks or other analysis may be necessary. The key is taking the time to go get those checkups.

The VA Health Care system typically provides PSA screening when you go to the clinic or hospital for your annual physical exam.

Women

For women it is often the breast, among other areas of the body, that needs to be monitored for cancer signals. Women need to have mammogram and Pap smear checkups, usually on an annual basis. Again, your primary health care provider will assess frequency. Mammograms are provided by the VA at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center. Other women’s screenings can usually be performed during outpatient checkups.

Men and women

There is also a test for blood in the stool, which can be a signal for digestive tract and colon cancer problems. The VA Durango Clinic will provide a kit for this screening, free of charge.

Unless you are experiencing unusual problems associated with the colon, cancer detection of that area usually requires colonoscopy tests at the VA Medical Center GI lab. This is more involved and requires an overnight stay. You will need a driver after the procedure, because of your sedation.

A colonoscopy is usually recommended every five years or so for men and women over the age of 50. More frequent monitoring may be necessary if polyps are found in the colon. Your doctor will make the recommendations. I continually find many veterans in advanced age who have never had this screening.

You may need to be found at risk for colon cancer, such as by family history, for the VA to recommend this procedure.

Cancer doesn’t usually happen overnight. It just might not be showing itself for a long time. Unfortunately, when it does finally become evident it may be too late to cure, or could certainly require a difficult treatment.

Besides the often-quoted cancer early warning signals that we’ve all seen for years, early cancer screening can detect other, less-obvious signs of cancer, lessen the level of cancer, limit its growth, and allow physicians to affect a cure much easier. All of the above cancer detection procedures entail very little or no discomfort, and normally do not require hospitalization.

Don’t put off those tests. Get the checkups on a routine basis. A little inconvenience now can keep you healthy, wealthy and wise.

DAV vans

The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization is running a VAHC van from Durango on Tuesdays and Thursdays — call Mike Dunaway, 247-2198 — and from the Farmington area on Mondays and Wednesdays — call Harriet Mulnix (505) 793-1782.

Durango VA Clinic

The Durango VA Outpatient Clinic is located at 400 South Camino Del Rio, Suite G, next to Big 5 Sports. Phone number is 247-2214.

Further information

For information on these and other veterans’ benefits, call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office located at the Senior Center in the Pagosa Springs Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard. The office number is 731-3837, the fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-6648, and e-mail is afautheree@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 to 4, Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for application for VA programs, and for filing in the VSO office.