- “Cancer-free” usually means remission of cancer with no significant evidence of disease recurrence.
- One can also minimize cancer risk through disease prevention, including lifestyle choices, though this is not a guarantee.
- Regular cancer screening can help reduce the cancer risk.
Patients and loved ones are often confused about the terms “remission” and “cancer-free” and “cancer survivor.” Others wonder if you can beat cancer by detecting it early or through treatment. Read on for clarity in these areas.
Three words you don’t want to hear.
“You have cancer.” For three-quarters of all families in America, at least one family member will be diagnosed with cancer.
A cancer diagnosis is often unexpected, coming after a routine treatment or test. For others, it’s the culmination of many months of testing. Though they cannot usually diagnose cancer, a radiologist might spot a concerning abnormality. Staging and prognosis can follow an oncology referral, more medical imaging, blood tests, and perhaps a biopsy or bone marrow test.
Next, your doctor or team of doctors will develop treatment options, which may include surgery, chemo, immunotherapy, other medications, radiation treatment or even “watchful waiting.” For less common cancers, you may be referred to a cancer research study or enrolled in a clinical trial.
The more you know, the more you may feel empowered to take steps to prevent and overcome cancer. There are so many types of cancer. Some are very rare. Here are common cancers in the United States with estimated numbers of cases for 2021:
- Breast cancer (women): 281,550 invasive, 49,290 non-invasive
- Lung and bronchus cancer: 235,760
- Prostate cancer (men): 248,530
- Colorectal cancer: 149,500
- Bladder cancer: 83,720
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: 81,560
Can you become cancer-free through remission?
During and after cancer treatment, your oncologist will order tests to measure the treatment plan’s effectiveness and see if that cancer has spread. If treatment is successful, you may eventually hear the word “remission.”
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines complete remission as “all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body.”
Partial remission means there are fewer signs of cancer. According to the NCI, someone is a cancer survivor “from the time of diagnosis until the end of life” — so everyone, regardless of remission status, is a cancer survivor.
Early detection and follow-up care.
Cancer care doesn’t end when cancer treatment finishes. As your healthcare team continues to monitor for cancer recurrence, they may need to manage side effects of your treatments and watch for any other health conditions.
You should also plan for regular, preventative screenings for new cancer and for cancer recurrence, including CT or MRI scans.
The importance of cancer screenings.
The best way to beat cancer is to detect it early, making regular screenings important for everyone — especially for people with higher risk factors.
Some types of cancer may go undetected for months or years before symptoms appear. The U.S. Preventive Task Force provides guidance on cancer screening by age and gender. Screening guidelines are designed to catch cancer at an early stage when it is easier to treat.
Breast cancer: Mammogram starting at age 35 for women with average risk. Ezra mammograms are insurance-covered for women aged 40 or over (who have insurance), or $325 for self-pay. Plus, your 3D mammogram will take only 20 minutes, and your results will be available in just 48 hours.
Cervical cancer: Cervical screening with Pap test and HPV test for women who have not had hysterectomies and are ages 21-65. HPV vaccinations should also be given in two doses in children aged 9 to 14.
Colorectal cancer: Stool-based screenings ages 50-75. Abnormal results referred for a follow-up colonoscopy.
Prostate cancer: Elective PSA testing starts at ages 55-69, or at age 45 if you are a male, African American, or have a family history of prostate cancer.
Ezra physicians at our New York locations now can offer a Prostate MRI with IV contrast to men with elevated PSA levels or urinary symptoms.
If you have a family history of cancer or are concerned you may be at risk of developing cancer early, discuss early screenings with your healthcare provider. However, you don’t need to be at risk for any specific cancer to start routine screenings with Ezra. We believe all individuals should take charge of their health with annual cancer screenings.
Cancer can develop from environmental and lifestyle causes. For example, exposure to substances like tobacco smoke and ultraviolet rays can contribute to cancer.
However, actions like vaccinating against certain viruses, making healthy lifestyle choices, and getting regular screens can reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Some cancers are influenced by genetics. The NCI says “Inherited genetic mutations play a major role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers.”
While we believe screenings should be part of routine healthcare, regular screens are even more important for high-risk individuals.
The American Cancer Society also offers guidance on healthy living. This reminds us that our lifestyle choices of diet, exercise, and other habits affect our health and well-being.
According to the NCI, “the median age of a cancer diagnosis is 66.” However, developing cancer is not a certainty for any age. Reduce your exposure to other risk factors and follow cancer screening guidelines for your age group. For breast cancer, screenings are particularly recommended for 50 to 75-year-old women.
Exposure to UV rays from sunlight, tanning beds, and reflections of those rays from glass, sand, or water may contribute to skin cancer. People can develop skin cancer from prolonged exposure to UV rays.
Tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, vapes, e-cigs, and smokeless tobacco) contain chemicals that are hazardous to your health and may cause cancer. What’s more, when smoked, tobacco releases thousands of chemicals. According to the American Lung Association, “69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer.” The CDC offers programs designed to help you quit tobacco use. To get started right away, text QUIT to 47848.
It’s recommended that people who are at a high risk of lung cancer get regular low-dose CT scans.
Obesity is a risk factor for many diseases, including many types of cancer. According to the NIH, you are considered obese if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and above.
Exposure to carcinogenic substances.
A carcinogen is a substance that promotes the formation of cancer.
Occupational exposure to carcinogens is of particular concern to the U.S. government and is monitored through the Department of Labor under the guidance of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
Workplace exposure to these cancer-causing materials may create a greater risk than public exposure to the same materials. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) are on file for potentially hazardous materials and show potential occupational carcinogens.
We are all exposed to radiation in our everyday life, and that exposure is cumulative. This means the amount of radiation builds in your body over time.
We’ve already talked about exposure to radiation from the sun. Other types of ionizing radiation that may increase your risk of developing cancer include:
- Gamma rays
While cancer isn’t contagious, at least seven viruses may cause cancer. Other microbial diseases can cause inflammation that may lead to cancer. Advances in immunology have led to the development of vaccines to prevent some types of cancer, such as HPV and Hepatitis C.
Making Ezra Scans part of your annual routine.
Whether you are a cancer survivor or have never had diagnosed cancer, you can act to be cancer-free. Awareness of all cancer types, risk factors, preventive medicine, screenings, and positive lifestyle choices are an excellent start.
For instance, the American Cancer Society offers guidance on healthy living. This reminds us that our lifestyle choices of diet, exercise, and other habits affect our health and well-being and are a crucial part of staying cancer-free.
As a preventative measure, we invite you to book an annual Ezra Scan, designed to screen for potential cancer and pre-cancer warning signs in most major organs. Ezra offers state-of-the-art scan services like the Ezra Mammogram, low dose CT scan, and MRIs like the Full Body and Full Body Plus.