George was 85 years old when his wife noticed some strange moles on his face. At her insistence, he went to the doctor to have the moles checked.
After a biopsy, the doctor found George had an early stage of skin cancer. Within a few weeks, he had surgery to remove the cancerous moles. He has been cancer-free for more than a year.
Longtime subscribers know I regularly criticize the medical industry. It's true... We're in the middle of an overtreatment epidemic. Doctors are over-testing and over-treating patients.
But I'm not anti-medicine... I'm all about common sense, science-based tests, and proper treatments.
As a medical doctor – an insider to one of the country's biggest industries – I've seen the benefits of medical procedures and drugs... when used appropriately.
And some tests are useful and necessary – like George's skin-cancer screening. Today, we're covering two of the most essential medical tests...
Colorectal cancer can strike both the colon and rectum. It typically begins as benign clumps – called adenomatous polyps. These polyps are small and don't often produce symptoms early on, making the cancer hard to detect without screening.
Of course, not all polyps develop into cancer, but they can. And the cancer can even spread to other organs throughout your body. Symptoms of this usually show up in the later stages. Screenings can catch the polyps before they're cancerous, so it's wise to have them removed.
Colorectal cancer screening has received the highest grade possible from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). This is a panel of 16 MDs and PhDs whose specialties range from behavioral health to pediatrics. These experts look at the research and make recommendations on the usefulness of screenings, counseling services, and preventative medications.
The USPSTF recommends screening for adults aged 50 to 75 years old. If there is a history of cancer in your family, start screening at age 50. Types of screening include fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy.
- Fecal occult blood testing requires testing stool samples for blood – a sign of colorectal cancer. It's a little annoying but has fewer side effects.
- A sigmoidoscopy looks for unusual growths in the rectum and lower colon.
- A colonoscopy examines the entire rectum and colon. Growths can be removed or biopsied during a colonoscopy, but a colonoscopy is slightly riskier than a sigmoidoscopy.
Most important, keep your weight in check. People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of colorectal cancer. This is especially true for people with large waistlines. To lower your risk, limit your intake of alcohol and processed meats. Also, some studies show regular use of aspirin lowers your risk. Do what I do... Take one baby aspirin a day or one 325-milligram aspirin every week.
2. Screening for Skin Cancer
Skin cancer looks like a slightly strange mole. In fact, some benign moles can turn cancerous. There are ways to tell potentially cancerous moles from benign ones. Cancerous moles are asymmetrical, have irregular borders or uneven color, and change in size or appearance. But the only way to identify if a mole is cancerous is through monitoring and screening.
Skin-cancer testing came back as an "I" grade from the USPSTF, for inconclusive. That means there's not enough evidence to either recommend or advise against a service.
But I've studied the research, looked at the facts, and found that skin-cancer screening is one of the most important exams to maintain your health...
The three main types of skin cancer are basal-cell skin cancer (the most common), melanoma, and squamous-cell skin cancer.
Basal-cell skin cancer appears on the face and other areas that have regular sun exposure. Melanoma occurs anywhere on the skin's surface. It can even occur on the eye and in the intestines. Both basal-cell skin cancer and melanoma are more common in people with fair skin. Squamous-cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer in people with dark skin, and usually appears on legs and feet. For fair-skinned people, squamous-cell skin cancer appears on the head, face, ears, and neck.
You should go to a dermatologist for a screening, not your primary care doctor. A quick look by a dermatologist is generally enough for him to know if you need a biopsy. The doctor biopsies the lesion, taking a small tissue sample to test and examine for cancer cells. Doctors typically do biopsies in their offices or at a hospital as an outpatient procedure. The doctor uses a local anesthetic on the biopsy area to lessen the pain.
The easiest way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from excessive sun. Avoid going outside during prime burning times of 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. If I have to go out midday, I wear a long-sleeved shirt and a hat. I also wear sunglasses to protect my eyes. But avoid excessive sunscreen use – they're loaded with known carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals). I try to avoid lotions stronger than SPF 8.
The tests we've described in this issue don't eliminate your risk of overtreatment or even disease, but it's likely you can improve the quality and length of your life by considering these tests sooner rather than later.
With these exams, should you have results that show the possibility of cancer, please research the possible treatments with your doctor and get a second opinion if you're in doubt. Always weigh the benefits and risks, and feel free to ask your doctor about the scientific proof for his recommendation. If he can't show you the proof, get a new doctor.
- A full list of published recommendations from the USPSTF.
- Something different: Inside the spooky apartments above New York's libraries.
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
November 1, 2016