Be A Survivor: Breast Cancer | Colorectal Cancer

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All about HPV and the Vaccine that Can Help Prevent It

hpv-3-things-parents-580x580There’s been plenty of media attention over the three letters “HPV” for a while, and today, I’m going to take a few minutes to share some information with the goal of clearing up any misconceptions people may have about it.

HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus, and there are more than 120 strains of it. Approximately 15 of them are linked with cervical cancer, and other cancers, and approximately 12 strains can cause genital warts. What many people do not realize is that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and about 79 million Americans are currently infected. In fact, it’s so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. It is spread during sex, and that can happen even when the infected person shows no symptoms.

That’s why the HPV vaccine is important. It was developed about a decade ago, and it protects against some of the high-risk HPV strains. Put simply: this vaccine can help prevent cancer from developing. The cancers related to HPV in some cases may take years or even decades to develop in a person’s body.

Part of the reason HPV has gained attention is because the target age for vaccination is 11-12 years old for girls and boys. HPV vaccination is most effective before sexual activity begins. However, the HPV vaccination still provides protection for women and men even if sexual activity has begun.

Cervical cytology testing, also called a Pap test, is a method to screen for cervical cancer in women and is also something we suggest. While HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, it doesn’t cause all cervical cancers. Pap tests should begin at age 21. HPV testing is another recommended screening for women ages 30-65. The bottom line is the vaccine can help protect boys, girls, men and women from the most-common sexually transmitted infection.

That’s why we recommend the vaccination to parents so their children can be safe, regardless of the family’s perspective on premarital sexual relations. Our online Avera Health Library has more information you can read about HPV and its vaccine. I also recommend that parents talk to their physician about any questions they might have.

Learn About Leukemia and Lymphoma

RachaelWhen Rachael Fjeldheim found herself sleeping more than 12 hours a night, the 22-year-old cosmetologist thought she was just suffering another onset of mononucleosis, a virus she had as a teen.

Rachael had recently moved to Rapid City, S.D., where she was striking out on her own, across the state from her hometown of Aberdeen, S.D. When she told her mom about her tiredness and swollen lymph glands, she followed her mom’s advice to see a doctor and have blood work done to make sure it was truly mono.

It wasn’t.

“When they called me to come in, I got the feeling right away that it was something serious. They said, ‘you have leukemia. You need to go to Sioux Falls today.’ It didn’t seem real,” Rachael said.

Free Educational Event

Leukemia and lymphoma are malignant conditions, or cancer, of the blood and lymphatic system, respectively. You can learn about both these conditions, as well as treatment options at a Leukemia and Lymphoma Education event on Friday, July 29, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Benedictine and Presentation rooms at the Prairie Center. Both lunch and breakfast will be served at this free event. To register, go to or call 1-877-AT-AVERA (1-877-282-8372).

Rachael soon found herself under the care of Ahmed Galal, MD, hematologist at the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls. She would stay at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center for five weeks, while she underwent four rounds of chemotherapy. Her first round hit the cancer head on, while follow-up rounds ensured that cancer cells weren’t lurking elsewhere in her body.

Rachael responded well to treatment and is in remission – a remission her doctor hopes is long term with no future relapses. If Rachael does experience a relapse, she would likely be treated in the future with bone marrow transplant.

For now, she’s happy to move on with her life. She relocated to Sioux Falls to be closer to her doctors and family, and is back to work as a cosmetologist.

Learning about her diagnosis and treatment was a huge part of the process for Rachael and her parents, who were with her virtually every day throughout her hospital stay, from the time she woke up until the time she was ready to go to sleep.

Positive Thoughts and Prevention

For Rachael, keeping a positive attitude made a huge difference. “I always realized that things could be worse,” she said. “Knowing that this would not be my situation forever also helped.”

As she continues on in recovery, Rachael and her family are aware of the importance of a preventive diet and practices. “I always wear sunscreen, and I’m definitely more careful and aware of what I put into and onto my body,” Rachael said. For example, you’re unlikely to find her eating processed foods, seasoning mixes and junk food snacks.

Galal says that leukemia and lymphoma are different from other common cancers, for example, of the breast or prostate. Depending on the type of disease, it can progress slowly over time, or within weeks or even days.

“Cancer is a very difficult word and weighs very heavily on the shoulders of patients and their families,” Galal said. Yet today’s treatment options present a great deal of hope.

The July 29 event is recommended for anyone facing a diagnosis of leukemia or lymphoma, and their family members or loved ones. “It’s important that people know what to expect in terms of treatment and side events, and also the nature and mechanisms of the disease,” Galal said.

“The progress that has happened in cancer treatment is amazing. Our greater understanding of these diseases has led to better treatment, including targeted treatment and immunotherapy, which enhances the body’s immune response to cancer cells,” Galal added.



Lose Weight and Lower Your Risk for Cancer

woman on scaleAmong the myriad benefits of maintaining a healthy weight, it may also reduce your risk of several types of cancer.

Research has shown for awhile that obesity lowers life expectancy by contributing to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. More recently, ties between obesity and cancer have become evident.

“There is a well established link between obesity and an increased risk of cancer, especially certain cancer types including esophageal, breast, pancreas, colorectal, endometrial, kidney, thyroid and gallbladder,” said David Basel, MD, Avera Medical Group Vice President of Clinical Quality.

Obesity can increase risk as much as 30 to 40 percent for some cancers, Basel said. “The strongest is esophageal and endometrial,” Basel said.

With more than one-third of Americans being overweight, the obesity epidemic across the U.S. is only getting worse.

One of the leading theories on why obesity leads to increased cancer is because individuals who are overweight have higher levels of hormones in their bloodstream, because fat cells produce estrogen.

“Another reason we think that obesity leads to cancer is that there are higher insulin levels in obese individuals,” Basel said. Higher insulin levels can cause inflammation and also prevent cancer cells from dying.

The connection between obesity and breast cancer is particularly striking, says Amy Krie, MD, oncologist with Avera Medical Group Oncology & Hematology. Research shows:

  • Obese women are 30 to 50 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than women of a healthy weight.
  • Women who walk 30 minutes per day lower their rate of breast cancer by 20 percent.
  • Women who gain 20 to 30 pounds after age 18 are 40 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those women who stay within five pounds. Women who gain 70 pounds double their risk of breast cancer.

Research shows that breast cancer survivors who do not gain weight after their diagnosis and maintain a healthy weight are less likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer.

“Certainly, the connection between obesity and cancer is one we’re still unraveling,” Krie said. “In order for a cancer cell to grow, it needs to have the right microenvironment. If your microenvironment is healthy, it is harder for cancer cells to set up shop.”

For weight loss to last, it needs to be a lifestyle change. “Commit to a lifestyle change of healthier eating habits, increasing fruits and vegetables and decreasing carbohydrates. Exercise is the No. 1 key. That in itself can have an effect on decreasing your cancer risk separate from obesity,” Basel said.

Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week, which are the recommended guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you can fit in more, that’s even better.

“Exercise lowers estrogen and insulin levels, decreases inflammation, relieves stress and improves your immune system,” Krie said. “Exercise is the single most important thing a woman can do to modify her risk.”


Exercise Recommendations

Adults need at least:

30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity (such as walking quickly or riding a bike) five times a week for a total of 150 minutes per week, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (such as running) or an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity


Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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