Health & Fitness

Ignoring the warning signs of cancer is risky business

Cancer warning signs

“Warning Sign,” a 1985 movie with Sam Waterston about a secret germ warfare lab in Utah, was mostly ignored by critics. Now, they may have had good reason, but ignoring warning signs can be risky business. Research out of the U.K. reveals that in one study, out of all folks (50 and older) who experienced a potential cancer-warning symptom, such as a change in a mole or unexplained pain, only 2 percent thought the cause might be cancer. Even when folks acknowledged that the symptom might be “serious,” they didn’t think it indicated cancer, and only 59 percent of those people had it checked out by a doctor.

Even though most potential cancer symptoms do not end up being cancer, failing to see a doc to rule them out is still risky business. Remember: Getting checked out leads to early detection, and that leads to better treatment and better chance of cure. Stage 1 breast cancer’s five-year survival rate is 100 percent; stage IV is just 22 percent. Non-small-cell lung cancer’s five-year survival rate for stage 1A is 49 percent; stage IV is 1 percent. So here’s a list of potential symptoms that you should make sure to ask your doctor about:

▪ Unexplained thickening or lump in breast or elsewhere

▪ Unexplained pain

▪ Change in bowel or bladder habits

▪ Chronic cough or hoarseness

▪ Change in the appearance of a mole or wart

▪ A sore that won’t heal

▪ Unexplained bleeding

▪ Unexplained weight loss

▪ Indigestion or difficulty swallowing.

If you act today, you’ll have a better tomorrow.

Avoiding plastics

Julia Child knew that reducing a sauce “positively deepens flavors.“ And reducing stress? That makes everything more positive too, from your heart health to your love life. But did you know that reducing a pregnant woman’s exposure to phthalates (used to make plastics pliable) can protect a child from having a significantly lowered IQ?

A study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health is the first to report a connection between prenatal exposure to phthalates and school-age kids’ IQ. Researchers found that moms exposed to the highest concentrations of phthalates had children with IQs about 7.6 points lower than the moms who were exposed to the least amount of the chemicals. That, say the scientists, has a direct effect on a child’s future academic and occupational abilities.

Phthalates are not required to be listed on labels. So if you’re contemplating becoming pregnant or are pregnant, dodge anything with an added scent that isn’t from a 100 percent essential oil – dryer sheets and plastics with the recycling numbers 3, 6 and 7. Never microwave anything in plastic.

Also, try to avoid buying food packaged in plastics and eating high-fat food, like whole dairy, which seems to contain an extra dose of phthalates. Instead, enjoy lots of fruits and veggies – they seem related to lower levels of phthalates in your blood. Take action now. You may reduce your blood level of phthalates pretty quickly.

Menu calorie counts

Dork. Nerd. Geek: Some labels can hurt. Others – high voltage, thin ice, wet paint – can help. But when it comes to the new regulations requiring restaurant chains with 20 or more establishments to provide calorie counts for most menu items (compliance is required in about a year), well, those labels can both help and hurt.

Anything that raises public awareness about the alarming amount of calories found in many chain restaurant dishes is OK with us. But posting calories may fall short of its goal of improving America’s nutrition level, because many tend to think, mistakenly, that a calorie is a calorie and all that matters is getting fewer of them.

A new paper in Public Health Nutrition warns that focusing on calories instead of encouraging selection of high-nutrition foods can lead to consumption of more fatty and sweet foods, not less.

For example, one national chain’s grilled chicken salad (without dressing) has 590 calories, while its BBQ fries have only 440. And guess what? Fries are not the healthier choice. They both dish up 20 grams of fat, but the fries offer little else besides fast-digested carbs, while the salad is full of good nutrition.

So when you see a calorie count, ask yourself: “What are the calories coming from?” Whole grains? Healthy fats? Fresh vegetables and fruit? If the answer is, “Not so much,” then say, “no, thanks,” no matter what the calorie count is!

The obesity sentence

A new study in The Lancet found that very obese men ages 20-39 die eight years earlier than their healthy peers, and lose around 16 years’ worth of good-quality day-to-day living. Very obese women lose up to 7.6 years. Those extra pounds lead to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes and all its complications. The study also reveals that for folks who are obese (instead of morbidly obese) up to six years of life evaporates.

Ban the Five Food Felons (grains that aren’t 100 percent whole, added sugars and syrups, and trans and sat fats), get daily physical activity (at least 30 extra minutes of walking, heading for 10,000 steps a day), and manage stress. Make healthy lifestyle choices and get your do-over to live a younger and healthier life.

Childhood asthma

What do soccer superstar David Beckham and snake-loving rocker Alice Cooper have in common? Asthma. They’ve both contended with this life-threatening lung inflammation since they were young children.

Their success stories should offer some comfort to the more than 7 million kids in North America who contend with this condition. In 2010, there were 640,000 asthma-related ER visits from kids under age 15.

Unfortunately, parents might not know how to manage a child’s asthma – and too often, the youngster isn’t given medication until an attack sends parent and child racing to the emergency room. But asthma needs to be managed every day, even when your child isn’t having symptoms such as fatigue, wheezing or congestion. Daily, long-term control medications can prevent attacks and reduce the need for a rescue inhaler. If your child is using the rescue inhaler more than twice a week, you need to talk to the doctor about improving your child’s treatment. You can start by identifying your child’s particular triggers (mold, dust, car exhaust, pollen) and finding ways to minimize exposure to them.

You also can help your child stick to a daily long-term control plan by taking a look at the Environmental Protection Agency’s brochure “Help Your Child Gain Control Over Asthma”; and the American Lung Association’s “Open Airways for School” program. Search for those titles online, and then make an appointment with a doctor who specializes in children’s asthma.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.