Doctor discusses aspects of cancer

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Enfield - posted Fri., Apr. 15, 2011
Dr. Ian Tucker, vice president of the medical staff at Johnson Memorial Hospital, gave a presentation about prevention and early detection of cancer at the Enfield Public Library. Photo by Tom Phelan.
Dr. Ian Tucker, vice president of the medical staff at Johnson Memorial Hospital, gave a presentation about prevention and early detection of cancer at the Enfield Public Library. Photo by Tom Phelan.

In its ongoing practice of bringing subject matter experts to Enfield to speak about matters of public interest, the Enfield Public Library offered a frank, informational presentation about Prevention and Early Detection of Cancer. April is Cancer Control Month.

The opportunity to speak in a public forum about what can be a frightening topic was the first for Dr. Ian Tucker. Tucker is vice president of the medical staff at Johnson Memorial Hospital, President of the Tolland County Medical Society, and a professor at the University of Connecticut. He also maintains an office for Family Practice in the center of Somers.

From the outset, he warned the small audience that he spoke very quickly. In fact, his rapid pace was warranted, given the expanse of the topic. The hour, including a healthy dose of questions, went by very quickly.

“This is an enormous subject, that would take far longer than an hour to discuss,” Tucker said in his opening remarks. His hour-long “thumbnail” presentation explained where cancers come from, who is at risk for getting them, and the chances of being affected by various types of cancer.

He also spent considerable time explaining the screening and detection methods available and identifying who should opt for cancer screening and at what age and conditions.

“Cancer is not one monolithic entity,” Tucker said, as he began to explain the basics of the disease. “You don’t get ‘cancer,’ you get a particular kind of cancer.”

His slides defined cancer as a “group of diseases in which there is abnormal cell growth and invasive ability.”

Tucker started by looking at what ‘normal’ looks like. “Normal cells have a way to grow and develop into whatever kind of cell they are going to be,” Tucker said. Then, using a car to pose an analogy, he explained in simple terms how cancer develops.

 “There are two regulatory mechanisms in your body,” he said. “Your car works by either applying the gas or stopping by stepping on the brakes. Your cells do the same thing. They either get turned on or slowed down.”

Tucker said that two things have to happen for cancer to develop. “The gas has to be put on too much, and the brakes have to fail.” Although Tucker avoided using too many technical medical terms, he did explain that the oncogenes in a body are the cancer-causing genetic material – he called it is the “gas.”

Tumor suppressor genes he likened to a car’s “brakes.” “If these both get inappropriately activated,” he said, “a person can get certain kinds of cancer.”

To give his audience a brief but effective synopsis of the kinds of cancer men and women can develop, Tucker presented tables of some of the most common varieties along with the risk factor expressed as a ratio.

For men, the lifetime probability of getting prostate cancer is 1 in 6, lung cancer, 1 in 13, and colon and rectal cancer 1 in 18. Those were at the top of Tucker’s “top 10” list.

The top 10 list for women showed a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer, 1 in 16 chance for lung cancer and 1 in 20 probability for having colon and rectal cancer.

As he covered the general risk factors for cancer, Tucker said that, as we age, our risk for contracting some form of cancer increases. Males are more likely to get cancer than females.

Geography is a risk factor for skin cancer. Ethnicity and socioeconomic status can also be risk factors.

 No one in the audience was surprised to hear that tobacco was the “single most important cause of death and incidence of cancer.” In fact, according to Tucker’s presentation, smoking or chewing tobacco causes 30 percent of cancer deaths.

Tucker spent some time talking to males about colon cancer screening, strongly recommending a colonoscopy every 5-10 years beginning at age 50. To the women in the audience, he emphasized breast self examination beginning no later than the early 20s, clinical breast exams every three years, and annual mammograms for women 40 and above.

Although weather may have kept the audience small, they took full advantage of the interactive nature of the presentation. The quality and extent of the information presented and the interest of the audience might have drawn the session well beyond the one-hour time limit.

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