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Editorial: Early detection of cancers can save lives

David Glenn, a longtime Havre de Grace Little League coach and president of the city council, announced at last week’s council meeting that he has prostate cancer.

The Havre de Grace High School graduate referenced being a “Warrior at heart,” and called the diagnosis “nothing more than a small speed bump along the way,” expressing confidence and resolve in beating the disease.

Glenn was, in a sense, fortunate that the disease was seemingly caught in its very early stages, noting the cancer was found during an annual exam, which he received because his father also had prostate cancer.

It’s a great example to set and a good reminder about the importance of early detection when it comes to cancers of all kinds. In most cases, the earlier the cancer is found before it metastasizes — or spreads throughout the body — the better chance of successful treatment and survival.

Regarding prostate cancer specifically, the American Cancer Society notes that since early detection tests for the cancer became more common during the early 1990s in the United States, the prostate cancer death rate has declined. (Although ACS does note that improvements in treatment may also be a factor.)

The ACS recommends that men talk to their health care provider about the pros and cons of screening for prostate cancer so they can decide if testing is right for them. No test is 100 percent accurate and there are risks of undergoing treatment that might not be necessary if the cancer is not malignant or is slow-growing and unlikely to cause health problems.

Generally, men should have a discussion about screening with their doctor at age 50 if they are at average risk of prostate cancer and expect to live at least 10 more years, and at age 45 if they are at a high risk for developing prostate cancer — including African-Americans and men like Glenn who had a first-degree relative with a father, brother or son diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 65, according to ACS. Men with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age may want to talk to their doctor starting at age 40.

Early detection screenings exist for nearly all cancers.

For women, aggressive campaigns reminding them to “think pink” and encouraging mammograms to screen for the disease likely contributed to the survival rate improving significantly over the past 25 years. ACS reported in 2017 that the number of women who died from breast cancer has dropped about 40 percent in that time frame.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related death, in part because it usually isn’t discovered until the later stages, when the survival rate is significantly lower. Only recently, low-dose computed tomography scans or CT screening for lung cancer became covered by most private insurance and Medicare, and studies have shown it can decrease the risk of death from lung cancer by 20 percent in some cases.

The five-year survival rate for lung cancers discovered at the earliest stages is about 80 percent, compared to 17 percent overall for those with a lung cancer diagnosis.

The American Cancer Society recommends a yearly low-dose CT scan for people with a higher risk for lung cancer, such as people aged 55 to 74 years who currently smoke or have quit smoking in the past 15 years.

We wish Mr. Glenn a speedy recovery as he begins his journey and encourage readers to talk to your doctor about your risk factors for certain types of cancer, what you can do to prevent it and what early screening tests might be right for you.

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