From the ancient Greeks to modern medicine (part 1)

Ken Burns’ PBS documentary on cancer features U-M medical historian

A depiction of ancient Greek physician Galen treating a patient, by 20th century artist Robert Thom

A depiction of ancient Greek physician Galen treating a patient, by 20th century artist Robert Thom

If you look in the night sky at this time of year, you might see a constellation called Cancer. To the ancient Greeks, who gave it that name, the collection of stars looked like a crab. So they gave it the Greek name for crab: carcinos.

Later, the Romans kept that name for the same constellation, but used the Latin word for crab: cancer.

Both cultures also used those words for something else: a terrible disease that formed growths as hard as crab shells inside the body, and sent spindly legs out from a central body.

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A Gentler Colonoscopy Prep

Gentler Colonoscopy PrepMany people will tell you that the worst part of a colonoscopy is the prep. Preparation is critical, though, to help your doctor identify any polyps — it also helps the colonoscopy go faster. Some colonoscopy prep involves drinking up to four liters of a prep solution to help cleanse your colon. Even for someone who typically drinks a lot of fluids, that’s a large amount and you have to drink a few ounces every 15 minutes, which makes the prep almost a full-time job.

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Breast Cancer Summit 2015

Not just for breast cancer patients and survivors

On Saturday, April 18th the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Breast Oncology and Community Outreach Programs (with support from the Michigan affiliate of Susan G. Komen, U-M School of Public Health, and QVC presents FFANY Shoes on Sales) will give you the opportunity to learn more breast health, the latest advances in breast cancer and learn about the resources available in the community. The Breast Cancer Summit is held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

I have attended the event in the past and was amazed by the uplifting spirit of everyone there. Breast cancer patients and breast cancer survivors have made up the majority of those who attended. However, there also were healthy, non-cancer patients at the summit who wanted to learn more about general breast health and what type of screening is recommended.

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Prevention is the best “cure” for cancer: 8 things you can do to prevent cancer

cancer preventionPrevention really is the best cure for any disease. This holds true for the dreaded “C” word as well. The number one best way to prevent cancer is simple: Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Why? Because up to one third of all cancers have a positive relationship with being overweight and obesity.

Narrowing cancer prevention down to this one goal sounds simple, but actually achieving a healthy weight can be more difficult. It is doable, if you commit to little changes at a time. Just try the following: Continue reading

Gathering your family medical history

family medical historyIt’s not uncommon for younger family members to ask where their grandparents came from, where they lived or how many children they had. Playing detective to figure out the names, locations and relationships of older relatives or distant generations can be fun. Gathering your family medical history can be interesting, too, with the added value of helping the people you love. The results might reveal a family connection to inherited conditions and diseases. Uncovering these kinds of family links can help doctors take better care of your loved ones, including recommending screenings, genetic testing, and looking for early warning signs of disease, including cancer.

Jessica Everett and Victoria Raymond, U-M genetic counselors, say that red flags concerning cancer in your family’s medical history can include:

  • More than one relative with the same or related cancers
  • Being younger than average when diagnosed
  • Having more than one primary cancer
  • Having a rare or unusual cancer

More tips:

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Thanksgiving: an ideal time to talk about family health history

family health historyThe U.S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving Day as National Family Health History Day since 2004. Over the holiday or at other times when families gather, the Surgeon General encourages Americans to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family.

Family members share genes, environment, lifestyles and behaviors that can determine shared risk for diseases such as various cancers, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity. That’s why family gatherings like Thanksgiving are the perfect time to collect your family health history, record it for the future, and encourage family members to share it with their health care providers. These easy steps can help you understand the risk for various diseases and encourage early detection and prevention. Continue reading