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Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

By Luga Podesta, MD Originally Published In DRUM! Magazine's February 2010 Issue

I have just returned home after having the pleasure of attending the benefit concert for legendary Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward. It was really heartwarming to see so many of his friends and fans come out to help raise money to help offset the tremendous medical costs ahead of Richie necessary to battle his cancer. As I sat through performance after performance tonight I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in the audience or performers on stage for that matter saw a physician regularly, or had knowledge of some of the more common warning signs of cancer.

Recently in my orthopedic practice a well-known drummer sought treatment for pain in his elbow. During the examination he began to ask me about some other problems that he was having that concerned him. He wasn’t sure if the problem was anything to be concerned about or if it was a normal occurrence. Luckily he brought it to my attention and he was able to be evaluated and treated in time before he developed colon cancer.

Today, the greatest weapon we have against cancer is early detection. The early warning signs of cancer are often ignored out of fear or a lack of knowledge. By the time you realize something is definitely wrong, it’s often too late to prevent the continued spread of the cancer. People that smoke, drink excessively over long periods of time, work around toxic chemicals, or who have immediate family members that have had cancer are at a higher risk of developing cancer. Often, we are uncomfortable or embarrassed discussing or undergoing certain types of screening particularly when screening for breast, testicle, or colorectal cancers.

Men should have a prostate examination yearly after the age of 50 or earlier around 35 if other men in your family have been diagnosed. Testicles should be checked for lumps regularly with any abnormalities reported to a physician immediately.

Women should check their breasts for lumps monthly beginning as early adults, with physician evaluations every two years if there is a prior family history. It is also recommended that mammograms be performed every year beginning at age 40. A Pap smear every year after the age of 18 is important to help detect early cervical cancer.

Both men and women can be stricken by colorectal cancer. Any blood in the stool, lower abdominal cramping or an urgent sensation to move your bowels when you don’t actually need to eliminate are early warning signs and require immediate evaluation by a physician.

Skin cancer can affect anyone regardless of race, gender, or age. Moles that have changed colors or darkened, enlarged or growing freckles, or moles that stand up from the skin or become misshapen require evaluation.

The American Cancer Society has identified seven symptoms that could be a sign of cancer:

1. A change in bowel or bladder habit or blood in urine or stool.

2. A sore that does not heal.

3. Unusual bleeding or discharge from any place.

4. A lump in the breast or other parts of the body.

5. Chronic indigestion, difficulty in swallowing or weight loss.

6. Obvious changes in a wart or mole.

7. Persistent coughing or hoarseness.

Cancer is no laughing matter and typically doesn’t go away. It is important recognize the warning signs and get cancer detected and treated quickly to increase your chances of survival. Don't ignore the early warning signs – don’t wait until it is too late!

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