Tests That Could Save a Life
One of those people who was hesitant to go is Nate, a Chicago firefighter. In October 2007, when Dr. Oz and 300 men took over The Oprah Show , Nate told Dr. Oz he was scared about colon cancer because his brother died at 35the same age Nate is now. Dr. Oz made Nate promise to get a colonoscopy, a colon cancer test.
The next day Nate was all cleaned out and ready for his colonoscopy with Dr. Jon LaPook of New York-Presbyterian Columbia Hospital. "I know you've got a lot of anxiety going into this. I would, too," Dr. Oz tells Nate. "But you ought to see this as any kind of athletic event in your life, any kind of major process that you had to get ready for emotionally and physically. It's the same kind of thing."
Dr. Oz says colon cancer starts as a benign polyp, or growth in the lining of the colon. While not all polyps lead to cancer, those that are precancerous usually develop into cancer in 5 to 15 years. From there they can spread to the liver and beyond.
Dr. Oz says that this immediate removal of polypswhether they're precancerous or completely benignshould make colon cancer incredibly survivable. "We can save the most lives because you truly cure people just by finding it."
As he's searching in Nate's colon for polyps, Dr. LaPook says there doesn't seem to be anything wrong. "This is textbook," he says. "This is just a normal looking colon, beautiful looking folds, normal blood vessels."
Then he finds a series of six tiny polyps. "I plucked them out," Dr. LaPook says. "We never roll the dice in medicine." He then sent off the six polyps to a pathologist to analyze, to see if any of them were dangerous.
How did Nate feel when he woke up after the procedure? "I didn't feel anything," he says. "It was simple."
While Dr. LaPook would usually recommend waiting 10 years between colonoscopies, he says Nate's family historyhis brother and grandfather died from colon cancerindicates that he should probably get one in three years.
Dr. Oz says there's another reason Nate should be vigilant in testing. "African-Americans get colon cancer earlier. It's more aggressive when they get it, which means they die more often from it. We don't want to miss it."
Dr. Oz says Peggy is addicted to tanning. While there is some amount of sun that is healthy, Peggy's exposure goes far beyond that amount. "Think of the skin like a cup," Dr. Oz says. "You fill it up with water, being the sunlight. The sun brings you life-sustaining nourishment. It's your ally. When you fill it too far, it begins to overflow. And I think you've reached that limit."
So after years of excessive tanning, Dr. Oz arranged for Peggy to have her first ever skin cancer screening with dermatologist Dr. Brandith Irwin. "I'm probably like a poster child for someone who needs to go to the dermatologist and hasn't," Peggy says.
Dr. Oz says if those spots are skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer, there are several types it could be.
Basal cell cancer, which starts at the base of the skin, is the most common form. Typically caused by sun damage, it starts with a scaly area that, if it advances, will eventually gain a pearly appearance.
Squamous cell tumors get a scaly appearance early. As they advance, the skin puckers in.
The third type of skin cancer is melanoma, which Dr. Oz calls "the big one." Melanoma comes from melanin, the cells that make pigment, so there are a few indicators. These can be explained as "A, B, C, D."
Asymmetry: "It's hard to draw a line down the middle," Dr. Oz says.
Border: "The border's irregular and it sort of melts into the skin around it. That's a classic sign of a melanoma."
Color: If a mole has a "rainbow coalition" of colors, that means it's probably melanoma, Dr. Oz says.
Diameter: Dr. Oz says mole size does matter. "If you can cover over the mole with an eraser head you'll probably be okay," he says. "But if you've got hundreds of moles or a family history or you've had a melanoma in the past, you need to be screened pretty aggressively."
When the tests come back, they are negativeall of the tumors are benign. But with the way she has treated her skin for so many years, Dr. Oz says Peggy is very lucky. "It's not because you planned it to be that way," he says.
Dr. Oz says learning the proper way to screen for skin cancer can literally save a life. "And here's the fun part. You've got to get completely naked. It's fun to do it in pairs. Get a nice Chianti. And then you've got to get a camera out," he says. "And the reason to get the camera out is when you find things, skin things, to take pictures of, you've got to snap them. And put a dime next to them or some piece of coinage so you can see how big it wasthe key for [your dermatologist] to find out what they are."
All the fun in the sun caught up with Jennifer when melanoma was found on her cheek and had to be surgically removed. "You can see how disfiguring it can be, especially if it begins to invade through the skin," Dr. Oz says.
Jennifer has a few words of caution for Peggy. "I was just like you. I'm paying the price now. You have to respect yourself enough to stopand your family and your friends. I was really lucky, my melanoma didn't spread. It doesn't mean that in two years it won't be everywhere. I have to live with that every single dayjust because I wanted a tan. And it's just not worth it. You do not need to do this to yourself. You're beautiful. You do not need to be tan."
Sandra's sister Josephine has been urging her to get a mammogram for years. "I send her e-mails. I send her cards. There was a special card they made one yearyou know, to remind someone you love to go and have an exam." But Sandra's fear kept her away from the doctor. "Every year I get that, 'Go get your mammies grammed' or whatever and I just laugh and I delete it. I mean, I don't even do a self-check."
Sandra is now facing her fears and going with Dr. Oz to have her first mammogram. "I'm going. I can't back out now. I'll just see what happens. I'm not going to like itbut I'll go."
Dr. Joseph begins the breast exam by checking Sandra's breasts for irregularities. "I'm checking all parts of the breast," Dr. Joseph says. "We sort of divide the breast into what we call quadrants. Divide it like a clock into fourths."
The breast exam goes well and Dr. Joseph gives Sandra the good news. "Your exam was fine. I didn't feel anything abnormal. Your lymph nodes were clear. I didn't feel any lumps."
Next, Sandra is given her first mammogram while Dr. Joseph urges her to relax. "Even if you hit me over the head I wouldn't be able to relax," Sandra says. "I'll feel better when I know everything's okay."
Dr. Oz says that 85 percent of all breast cancer happens in those ducts. "But if you look inside the duct when the cancer is first beginning to start, it stays there for a while. It doesn't break through these walls like that. It takes a while to do that. If you can find the cancer when it's early, you can take it out and it's done."
What you don't want, Dr. Oz says, is for cancer to spread to the lymph nodes and beyond. "The key is to get that cancer before it penetrates through the wall. If you find it then, it's a done deal," he says. "You have a baseline defense systeman immune system. You want to help it, but it can only defend you for so long."
"I should have went a long time ago instead of bringing 50 million people with me," Sandra says. But because Sandra saw breast cancer take her mother's life, she needed convincing to take the first step. "I watched a woman deteriorate in front of my eyes, and I just didn't want to do that to my children."
Dr. Oz says if we can overcome the intimidation or fear, the more we know about our bodies, the better our overall prognosis will be. "When you're on a plane and you're bouncing around a little bit, you don't want to go up to the cockpit and see what's going on, right? Because it's scary to you. You figure someone else will take care of it," he says. "You've got to be the driver of your ship. You've got to be the world expert on your body. Not knowing if you've got the problem is not going make it any better. It actually makes it more difficult for [doctors] to help."
"I eat a lot of candy at night trying to keep awake 14 hours at a time," Jason said. "I feel like a 45, 50-year-old man in a 30-year-old body."
Jason also had a snoring problem so severe that it worried Karen. "It sounds like he's gasping, that he's actually not breathing for a couple seconds at a time, and I can't imagine what that might be doing to his heart," Karen said.
Dr. Oz gave Jason a big wake-up callat just 35-years-old, Jason had diabetes and hypertension.
Eleven months have now passed since Jason's interventiondid he change his health habits?
Dr. Oz has great news for Jason. "You're not a diabetic anymore, and you're not hypertensive anymore," Dr. Oz says. "The big story is these are reversible diseases. I just want to shout out to Karen, because that's the woman who saved your life."
What about Jason's snoring problem? Jason had an operation performed on his septum to control his sleep apnea, but his doctor found something unexpected. "We thought it was really nothing, a cyst, and we took it out. It turned out to be cancer," Dr. Josephson says.
Fortunately for Jason, Dr. Josephson was able to catch the cancer before it grew. "This is the kind of stuff we're talking about," Dr. Oz says. "You can change your health destiny. Those are not pretty cancers when they grow."