The Shadow of Cancer and its Impact in Puerto Rico
Due to its indiscriminate nature, cancer has been a constant shadow in the daily lives of Puerto Rican families. Unpredicted by many and lamented by all, the disease that can affect any part of the body caused more than eight million deaths in 2012, according to numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the case of Puerto Rico, the most recent data provided by the Puerto Rico Central Cancer Registry shows that 71,997 people were diagnosed with cancer between 2008 and 2012, which represents some 14,000 new cases reported each year.
Oncologist Edgardo Rodríguez Monge informed Caribbean Business that prostate and breast cancer cause the greatest number of deaths on the island. However, there are other types of cancer that could be equally dangerous for patients.
Prostate cancer was reported with the highest incidence of any type of cancer in Puerto Rico during the period between 2008 and 2012, affecting 39.1% of the 38,750 men diagnosed with the disease. However, prostate cancer patients have a 100% chance of survival.
To combat this type of cancer, which usually attacks men over 50 years of age, early detection is key. Common symptoms include difficulty, pain, or a burning sensation when men urinate; back, pelvis or hip pain; and urinating frequently, particularly at night.
“It is recommended that after the age of 40, men begin visiting their urologist so that a rectal exam in which the prostate is checked becomes part of their physical examinations,” said Rodríguez Monge. Another possible screening exam includes blood testing (PSA), although it is not needed in all patients.
Out of 33,247 women diagnosed with cancer on the island, 29.6% received a positive diagnosis of breast cancer between 2008 and 2012. The survival rate is estimated to be 83.1%.
According to a special report from the Central Cancer Registry, women who have changes in the appearance of the breast or detect changes while conducting a self-examination, or experience persistent pain in any part of the breast should visit their gynecologist to undergo appropriate testing.
Rodríguez Monge said that while “the vast majority of breast cancer patients are in their 60s,” he recommends that patients should start having an annual mammogram done starting at age of 40. In the case of women with a family history of breast cancer, the physician stressed the importance of having their breasts examined five years before the age at which the family member was diagnosed.
“The most important screening is done by the patient herself. It is recommended that self-examination is done once a month so that you get well acquainted with your breast, and if you find any abnormality, then go visit your doctor,” he added.
Cancer of the Colon and Rectum
Unlike prostate and breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer affects 24.9% of the 71,997 total affected individuals. This disease affects men and women basically in the same proportion. In 2005 the probability of survival stood at 61.3%.
Its slow and silent development requires that both men and women undergo a colonoscopy exam every seven years starting at the age of 50, said Rodríguez Monge. Some of the symptoms include weight loss without reason, nausea, vomiting and a swollen abdomen.
“When people refuse to have a screening colonoscopy, that is the patient who arrives with the most advanced [stage of the] disease, to the point where they often have metastases elsewhere [in the body],” he lamented.
Thyroid cancer is different because it is able to develop into four different types of cancer in the thyroid gland area. The most dangerous kind is anaplastic cancer, found less frequently in people over the age of 60.
Despite affecting both men and women, the latter are the most affected and represent 9.8% of all women with cancer on the island between 2008 and 2012. In this particular case, the most used screening method is a physical examination performed by a physician, explained Rodríguez Monge.
With a survival rate of 97.2%, thyroid cancer can be cured if it is found on time. To achieve early detection it is important to differentiate the symptoms from that of a common cold, such: as hoarseness, throat pain, difficulty swallowing or breathing, neck or throat pain, and a mass in the frontal neck area.
Lung and Bronchial Cancer
In men, lung and bronchial cancer accounts for 6.1% of all patients. The Cancer Registry found that its relative survival rate is only 15.5% due to its tendency to be detected after having spread.
Symptoms include difficulty breathing, persistent fatigue, coughing blood, constant cough and pneumonia or bronchitis diagnoses. Like thyroid cancer, lung cancer is divided into more than one type and there is no particular screening rule.
Among smokers in particular, who represent the highest risk patients, the physician recommended a Low-Dose CT Scan as a screening test from the age of 50 if the person smoked at least two packs a day for more than 20 years.
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