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This week, the Environment Report is taking an in-depth look at the connections between cancer and the environment.When somebody gets cancer, one of the first questions is usually "why?"Does this kind of cancer run in my family?Was it something in the water, or in the air around me?Did I get exposed to something?What would you do, or where would you go to answer these questions? We'll explore how much we really know about the connections between cancer and the chemicals in our environment.We'll also meet both regular people and scientists trying to figure out if certain towns around Michigan are struggling with more cancer cases than other places because of current or past pollution.You'll hear about whether or not turning to the courts makes sense when it seems a company might to be blame for putting people at risk of cancer or other illnesses.Finally, we'll look at where we go from here. What do researchers know, and where are they looking next?

Listeners and doctors weigh in on 'Living with Cancer'

John Klein Wilson
Michigan Radio

Yesterday, we hosted a live web chat that coincided with the airing of our one-hour documentary, "Living with Cancer."

People who logged on could ask our cancer experts, Dr. Anthony Shields and Dr. Michael Harbut from the Karmanos Cancer Institute, their questions about cancer and the environment. Some weighed in via Facebook and our blog, as well.

Here is a recap of the chat:

Michigan Radio: Let's start with this question that a lot of us wonder about: what's the simplest way I can limit my cancer risk?

Dr. Anthony Shields: Clearly the biggest risk for cancer is smoking. STOP SMOKING or don't start. Smoking is associated with many cancers, not just lung cancer.

Angie:  I am asking myself this question in the biggest way right now after [sic]loosing my sister to a rare cancer less than a month ago, I head for an MRI next Tuesday to further investigate nodules that are located on both of my adrenal glands. It's making me question if there is something I'm unaware of in my genetics. . . I also lost my Mom to Breast Cancer.

Dr. Shields:  While most cancers don't have a clear genetic link, some certainly run in families. If you or your doctors think that there is a genetic link for cancers in your or your family, then you should see a genetic counselor.  

Producer Meg Cramer: How often are you able to figure out exactly what caused someone's cancer?  

Dr. Shields: Cancer is almost always caused by more than one thing. Even in families with a very high risk of cancer a second change must happen in a tumor to cause the cancer. Clearly many smokers don't get lung cancer and some non-smokers do. We can sometimes figure out some of the contributing factors that cause cancer, but that really is in a minority of patients.  

MR: What types of cancer have rates that are rising or falling, and why?  

Dr. Shields: Fortunately, the death rate for cancer has been falling overall. Lung cancer is falling the most, since fewer people now smoke. The death rates are also going down from breast, prostate and colon from improved screening and treatment. Some forms of stomach cancer have gone up and we are still trying to figure out why.  

MR: One of our interns wants to know: as a young person, what are some habits I can fit into my routine now to help me reduce my risk of cancer down the road?  

Dr. Shields: One needs to get in the habit of getting exercise and eating well. This includes low fat foods, a good amount of fruits and vegetables, and drinking alcohol in moderation if at all. A good night's sleep also helps.  

Dr. Michael Harbut: Also, I think people should avoid carcinogenic chemicals like benzene in gasoline and asbestos. In many parts of Michigan, there is arsenic in the well water, so people should get their water tested, and people throughout the state should get their basements checked for radon, an odorless, colorless gas that causes lung cancer. 

Dr. Shields: The most important issue is actually knowing your family history and who had cancer, diabetes, heart disease. This is one of the things we always ask new patients. You need to go over these with your doctor to help in prevention and screening. It is not always easy, since in the past families did not share cancer histories. As I said before, your doctor will help sort through this information, since groups of cancers run together and they don't seem obvious. For example, colon, bladder and uterine cancer are seen in one syndrome.  

Jack: What are some of the most appreciated things to do for a good friend or family member that has learned they have cancer?  

Emily: Don't pity them. They are suffering enough. 

Dr. Shields: Be there for them and listen. They may have difficult decisions to make, so help them find good advice. They will have a lot on their minds, so give them the gift of your time. They may need help with chores and errands. 

Bruce: Seriously send them a link to caringbridge.org so they can chronicle their story, keep all their friends apprised of progress at once, and vent as needed. They can also get lots of feedback and encouragement without tiring visits.  

Juliana: Go with them to their appointments to provide moral support. Tell them you'll be with them every step of the way. I wish someone had [sic]down that for me when I had cancer. It was scary going it alone. 

You can read through the full conversation on our chat module here

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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