MIDLAND, Texas (KMID/KPEJ) For Jessica Sikazwe, an Oncology Nurse Practitioner in Odessa, working with cancer patients shows her humbleness and gratitude. She loves her patients, who remind her of how important it is to be grateful for the small things in life that we sometimes take for granted.
We spoke with her about the importance of early cancer detection. She told us about a couple of cases she experienced with different patients that illustrate the difference between letting time pass or addressing symptoms early on.
She told us about a local 35-year-old woman whom we’ll call “Andrea” to protect her identity. Andrea found a lump in her breast. She didn’t want to leave anything to chance and went to her doctor, who in turn ordered a mammogram. That decision saved her life. Thanks to her prompt reaction, she received early treatment for breast cancer.
It’s quite simple: the benefit of screening tests is that cancer can be found in its early stages when it’s easier to treat. Many people wait to see their doctors after they have symptoms, and this can result in more complications and risks because the cancer is more advanced. Moreover, treatments for advanced cancer cases tend to be much more expensive.
Some of the symptoms of cancer include fatigue, weakness, unexplained fever, rectal bleeding, weight loss, or the appearance of a lump in the neck, armpit, or chest, or a skin lesion that begins to grow. These are symptoms that should be addressed immediately.
On the other hand, the most common sign of endometrial cancer is vaginal bleeding. After menopause, there should be no vaginal bleeding, and if this happens, it is a symptom that should be addressed immediately.
The following are the most common cancer screening processes:
Mammograms: These are X-rays of the breast glands. They are recommended for women starting at the age of 40. The process takes about thirty minutes and can be a bit uncomfortable for the patient.
Colonoscopy: Recommended for women and men starting at the age of 45. A thin, illuminated tube with a camera is inserted through the rectum to survey the large intestine for abnormal growth areas, and it also allows the doctor to perform a biopsy. The process lasts about 30 minutes and is not painful. Local anesthesia is used, and the patient enters and leaves the hospital on the same day.
Pap smear: In this test, changes in cervical cells that can cause cancer, often due to the human papillomavirus (HPV), are examined. This test is recommended every three years starting at the age of 21, or more frequently depending on the results.
Genetic testing: It is an analysis that tracks genetic changes in DNA that may be causing cancer.
In the case of a patient’s family having a history of cancer, these screening tests may be conducted earlier.
Jessica urges the Latino community not to avoid screening tests due to cost reasons, as there are currently many community assistance programs that can help cover these costs.
Jessica tells us the sad case of another local woman whom we’ll call “Jacinta.” She also discovered a lump in her breast but decided not to go to the doctor because she had a son in high school and thought that her children should come first. She didn’t want to worry them or have the illness interfere with her son’s schooling. When her son graduated from high school, Jacinta finally went to the doctor. There she received the bad news. The doctor informed Jacinta that she had stage 4 cancer. What started in her breast had already spread to her lungs, bones, and other organs. Her son graduated, but he lost her mother shortly thereafter.
Studies indicate that Hispanics in rural areas prefer not to know if they have cancer and only go to the doctor when they have little hope and little time left to live.
In Texas, the Hispanic community has a higher propensity to develop liver, kidney, stomach, and cervical cancer.
Texas Oncology offers different treatments for various types of cancer, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Patients do not have to travel to another city to receive treatment.
If you know someone who do not speak English but want to inquire further, you can call 432-335-8275.