Ask an Expert
Ask an Expert
Ask the Expert is a free question-and-answer service about cancer care, treatment and programs.
We make our network of more than 200 cancer doctors, cancer surgeons and cancer care experts available to answer your cancer-related questions to assist you and your family with your care journey.
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If you have a question, please complete this form. One of our experts will respond to your request within one week.
Commonly asked questions
A: Breast pain is a common complaint among women. It can include breast tenderness, sharp burning pain or tightness in your breast tissue. The pain may be constant or it may occur only occasionally. Breast pain can range from mild to severe. It can affect you just a few days a month, for instance just before your period, or can last for seven days or more each month. Postmenopausal women sometimes have breast pain, but breast pain is more common in younger, premenopausal women and perimenopausal women. Most times, breast pain signals a noncancerous (benign) breast condition and rarely indicates breast cancer.
Still, unexplained breast pain that doesn’t go away after one or two menstrual cycles or that persists after menopause and occurs in one specific area of your breast needs to be evaluated by your doctor.
A: What a great question! There is no hard and fast rule when women should stop having mammograms, as it will depend on your general health. Some women may continue having mammograms into their 80’s and 90’s while others may stop in their 70’s. For more information, call the experts at Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center at (319) 558-4876.
A: If you are feeling well and your laboratory work is acceptable, recommendations for you would be the same as for anyone else: thirty minutes of cardio-vascular exercise 5 times per week and strength exercises 2-3 times per week. It is also important to focus on certain aspects of health that may have been or can be affected by surgery and treatments, such as range of motion, flexibility and balance. The key is to pay attention to your body and your needs throughout the entire continuum of care. For help deciding what exercises would be best or for a plan designed specifically for your needs, contact Matt Schmitz, Cancer Exercise Specialist at the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center (319) 369-7543.
Being diagnosed with cancer changes your life, affects your loved ones and changes how you look at things. Having cancer causes distress in everyone and effects how you and your family cope with cancer. Distress can range from feeling overwhelmed, sad and fearful to feelings of depression and anxiety.
Research suggests you can improve your coping if you:
- Talk to people about your feelings, fears and reactions
- Recruit and use the support of friends and family
- Continue to be involved in activities as much as your energy level lets you
- Get or stay connected to whoever gives you spiritual support
- Join a support group (on-line or in-person)
During treatments you devote your time and energy to fighting the illness. Work, family and day-to-day activities are replaced by doctor appointments and dealing with treatment effects. Emotional issues may go unrecognized or untreated because the focus is on curing the cancer and on your physical well-being.
Sometimes your life-long coping strategies simply cannot keep up with the emotional effects of cancer. Cancer treatments themselves can cause or add to symptoms of anxiety and depression (changes in sleep, appetite and energy levels). And on top of all that, physical changes may lead to feeling insecure or self-conscious about your appearance.
Emotional support services for cancer survivors and their family caregivers are often focused on:
- Finding ways to handle issues triggered by the diagnosis
- Learning skills to handle anxious thoughts and feelings of depression
- Developing strategies to handle the daily challenges in your lives
The end of treatment often brings fears of recurrence and feelings of uncertainty. You and those around you may have been so focused on getting through treatment that you think the end of treatment means the end of having to deal with cancer in your lives. However, it is common to have distress, fatigue and other symptoms much longer after treatment than you imagined and to continue to need help coping with them.
You may be unsure of when to talk to your healthcare team about how you are feeling. Let them know if:
- You are feeling “down” or very anxious more days than not
- You have ongoing feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- You feel difficulties have arisen in your relationships
To talk to a cancer specialist about how you and your family are coping, call Nancy, Certified Oncology Social Worker at (319) 369-7473.
A: In most cases, insurance will cover genetic testing. The nurse practitioners at the Nassif Community Cancer Center can help guide you through the genetic counseling and testing process and answer your questions about insurance coverage for testing. To meet with one of our cancer genetics professionals is a free service. For more information please call (319) 558-4876.
Lung cancer screening
A: LDCT lung screening is recommended for people who are at high risk for lung cancer. Screening before symptoms appear may lower risk by as much as 20 percent. Those who have symptoms of a lung condition at the time of screening, such as a new cough or shortness of breath, are not eligible. They should see a physician immediately. To qualify for this exam a person needs to be between 55-74 years old and have smoked at least an average of one pack a day for 30 years. This does include people who still smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
Risk factors for lung cancer include having cancer in the past, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, a family history of lung cancer and occupational exposure to certain substances, including asbestos, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, diesel fumes, nickel, radon, silica, coal smoke and soot. Your physician can help you determine if you have one of these other risk factors. For more information on the LDCT for lung cancer screening please contact a Lung Care Coordinator at (319) 558-4876.
A: The Survivorship Clinic provides care for those patients who have completed treatment for their cancer. The focus of the clinic is on the overall wellness of cancer survivors as well as surveillance for any cancer recurrence, dealing with any side effects of cancer and it’s treatment, and promotion of healthy living. The clinic works closely with your oncologist and primary care provider to assure a team approach for your healthcare. For more information, please call (319) 558-4876 or (319) 369-7816.
A: There is no such thing as a “safe tan”. Anytime your skin is changing color, whether it be tanning or burning, it is sun damage and can cause skin cancer, even the deadliest form, melanoma. Skin should always be protected when exposed to the sun, and tanning beds emit a high dose of rays in a short amount of time, increasing the damage to the skin and the risk for cancer. The HGNCCC urges everyone to protect themselves with sunscreen, hats and sunglasses while outdoors, to avoid tanning beds, and to have yearly skin checks with their dermatologist or family practice doctor. Skin cancer incidence is rising, especially amount the young adult population, and can be deadly if not caught early.
Ask an Expert: questions & answers
- Ask the Expert – What is the role of the medical dosimetrist in radiation treatment?
What is a medical dosimetrist?
A medical dosimetrist is a critical member of the radiation oncology team. The dosimetrist’s role is to create a custom treatment plan for each patient to ensure the correct dosage of radiation reaches the tumor while protecting healthy tissue. Patients don’t see us on a daily basis but we are involved in every patient’s treatment.
How do you develop a treatment plan?
We start by performing a CT scan with the patient positioned exactly as they would be for treatment. The scan helps me visualize where the disease is located. Then I use multiple techniques to ‘sculpt’ delivery of radiation to the targeted area and away from critical organs or tissue.
What happens after you create the plan?
It’s reviewed and approved by one of our board-certified radiation oncologists. Our medical physicist double-checks the plan to ensure the linear accelerator will deliver the exact dose prescribed. We perform multiple checks throughout the process to ensure we deliver the safest treatment to every patient. Radiation therapists administer treatment to the patient on a daily basis.
How do you protect healthy tissue from the radiation?
We use multiple techniques, from controlling the angle and intensity of the radiation beam to positioning the patient for treatment. For example, with breast cancer on the left side, it’s important to protect the heart to guard against radiation-related cardiac issues later in life. We have the patient hold a deep breath while the treatment is delivered. It actually pulls the heart away from the treatment area.
What do you like best about working at St. Luke’s Radiation Center?
We have a great team here. We work closely together to achieve the best outcome for our patients. Our goal is to kill the disease but limit side effects the patient may experience.
For more information about St. Luke’s Radiation Center, click here or call (319) 861-6944.