Cancer occurs when cells in the body grow at an uncontrolled rate; ovarian cancer occurs when these cells grow in the ovaries. According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death among women. The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance has identified certain factors, however, that may increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, including a family history of breast or ovarian cancers on either side of the family; personally having had breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer; having a history of endometriosis; not having a biological child, or having a history of fertility problems; and being 40 years old or older (although younger women can also be affected). Women are recommended to have an annual well-woman exam, which may include a pap test. Note that the pap test does not screen for ovarian cancer, as there are no current medical tests with this ability, though further testing can be done if a woman is symptomatic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that symptoms of ovarian cancer are often mild and easily overlooked, mirroring symptoms caused by other medical problems, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), gallstones, or even thyroid issues. Ovarian cancer is often not diagnosed until an advanced stage because of the wide array of conditions with similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to treat. It is important for every woman to be aware of what is normal for her own body and to talk to her provider about the possibility of ovarian cancer when something is not normal. Women should contact their provider if any of the following symptoms are present: abnormal bleeding or discharge; pain and/or pressure in the low-abdomen; back pain; bloating; constipation; feeling full very quickly after only eating a small amount; pain during sex; an urgent or more frequent need to urinate; nausea; and/or vomiting. Though no specific ovarian cancer screening test currently exists, there are tests available that help detect the presence of ovarian cancer if a woman is symptomatic. Talk to your provider about having an ultrasound, a rectovaginal exam, or a CA-125 blood test. A combination of these tests should be used to detect ovarian cancer, as any one test alone is not a fully accurate test for ovarian cancer. According to OCRFA, the CA-125 blood test only detects about 50% of early-stage ovarian cancers, 70% of advanced-stage ovarian cancers, and is most accurate in post-menopausal women who already have a detectable mass growing in their abdomen. It is also important to note that the CA-125 blood marker can be elevated for certain non-cancerous conditions. The ACS suggests that some lifestyle factors may lower a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, including having a baby, taking birth control pills for more than 5 years, and breastfeeding for a year or longer. It is
also important to eat a healthy diet, be tobacco-free, and exercise. Take ownership for your health by discussing your personal risk with your provider, and by taking steps toward living a healthy lifestyle.

Contact your provider for more information, or for cancer screening information, call SCF Health Education at (907) 729-2689

Colorectal cancer is a preventable and beatable cancer, and early detection is key to successful treatment. According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, there are currently more than one million colon cancer survivors in the U.S. The Alaska Native Epidemiology Center identifies it as the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in the Alaska Native community. Scheduling regular screenings increases the likelihood of identifying cancer in its early stages, contributing to an improved chance of successful treatment. If you experience a change in bowel habits, abdominal discomfort, or rectal bleeding, these are good indicators that you should schedule an appointment with your provider to determine what is going on with your health. If you do experience these symptoms, it does not automatically mean you have colorectal cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting screened regularly if you are age 50 or older, but for Alaska Native people, it is suggested to begin screening as early as 40.

Be proactive in consulting with your provider; they can help determine which screening option is best for you. CDC suggests some options for screening, which include:• Colonoscopy every 10 years
• Stool DNA test every 1 – 3 years
• CT colonography every 5 years
• Sigmoidoscopy every 5 years

You can help prevent colorectal cancer by staying active, eating healthy, and maintaining a healthy weight. You should also avoid excessive alcohol consumption and tobacco use.

For more information, talk to your primary care provider.

Have you heard of Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food? It details an experiment that strongly supports the theory that abandoning a Western diet in favor of one consisting of traditional foods can lead to vast improvements in your health. Last year, a group of Igiugig High School students got their hands on Pollan’s book, and after reading it, were compelled to initiate a Native food challenge in their community. The experiment Pollan based his writing on took place over seven weeks in the early 1980s, and featured a group of 10 middle-aged, city-dwelling Australian Aboriginal people, each suffering from obesity and diabetes. The group had previously eaten only a Western diet; in the seven weeks, they moved to the remote Australian Outback and ate foods traditional to a huntergatherer lifestyle. At the end of seven weeks, a physical exam and blood draw from the participants found striking improvements in virtually every measure of their health. Pollan’s advice to achieve similar results? “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. “Prior to beginning the Native food challenge, participants prepared by monitoring their blood pressure and weight, developing a list of allowable foods, and securing and harvesting fish, berries, greens, and game meats. Then, beginning Sept. 17, 2017, approximately 100 Igiugig community members challenged themselves to eat only traditional foods, locally raised foods, and oatmeal for a six-week period. Results from the challenge are still being collected, but preliminary follow-ups appear to show positive outcomes, closely related to those of the Australian experiment.

For more information about the Native food challenge, contact SCF Health Education at (907) 729-2689.