The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. 

Your health
By Michael Warren 

Cancer is one word that strikes fear into the hearts of almost everyone. But we must accept its existence and deal with its effects. 

Cancer is one of the major causes of death each year. There are many kinds, ranging from the easily treated (if caught early enough), such as some types of skin cancer, to the devastating, harder-to-treat tumors, such as brain cancer.

 It’s time to rethink cancer, AIDS and other diseases that conjure up abject fear and hopelessness. Other diseases are life threatening also. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. Diabetes kills thousands each year. Addictions to alcohol and drugs can be fatal, as well as causing immeasurable emotional devastation.

 Cancer can be treated and managed aggressively through prompt care. It’s even better to deal with the disease before it invades our bodies and forces us to fight back.

 The key is preventive medicine. We must respect our bodies and conduct our lives such that we protect ourselves as much as possible. For instance, quit smoking and reduce the risk of lung cancer; adjust your diet (more fiber and less fat). Breast examinations, mammograms and PAP smears for women and testicular and prostate examinations for men should be routine; regular physical examinations should be automatic. No, we don’t guarantee that following this advice will protect you from cancer; but early detection means a faster and better chance of survival.

 If you are overweight and have a history of diabetes in your family, your chances for diabetes increase every day. Do what you know you must do – join a weight-loss support group, adopt a sensible diet and exercise program, take care of yourself; diabetes can be fatal.

 If you believe you could be at risk for AIDS, then get tested for the antibody to the AIDS virus. Knowing you are positive will not mean instant death. Rather, it will allow you to manage your condition. Many people have been HIV positive for years and have shown no signs of the disease. However, the wise ones go in for periodic checks of their T-cell levels and monitoring of certain blood components. If signs of the disease begin, they can be given antiviral drugs. 

Quitting smoking, cutting down on drinking alcohol, adopting a regular exercise program and reducing fat, cholesterol and salt in the diet, can lessen risk for heart disease. Remember that heart disease is an accumulative condition. Poor diet for long periods can lead to that sudden heart attack. (Keep this in mind as you fix dinner for the kids.)

 Practice preventive medicine. Take charge. Look to the future. 

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith Professor of Surgery in the division of urology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.