Man-to-Man Talk: Preventing Cancer and Other Health Risks

Man-to-Man Talk: Preventing Cancer and Other Health Risks

A Cancer Survivor and a Local Physician Share their Unique Perspectives

Arnold Henig was 69 years-old when he was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a type of cancer that occurs when blood-forming cells in the bone marrow are damaged.  The diagnosis came as a surprise to Henig.  He had no family history of the disease and he still isn’t sure how he contracted it.  But he continues to get treatment for MDS almost 15 years later.  “I live on hope and I’m doing good,” says Henig.

Henig is doing okay, or at least better than average.  According to recent government statistics released late last year, the average American male will live to the age of 76, just a few years shy of his female counterpart.  Heart disease is the number one cause of death for men, killing one in every three adult males, according to the American Heart Association.  That’s followed by cancer, and while many people are becoming more proactive with their health, men are less likely to take action.  “A vast majority of male patients are usually referred by their significant other.  They usually have the statement of ‘my wife asked me to ask you a question about my health,’ so we have to thank our female partners for being proactive about it,” observes Rony J. Alvarado, MD, a family physician practicing at Watson Clinic in Lakeland.  Dr. Alvarado says male patients are often less aware of their health risks.  Henig was diagnosed with MDS only after his wife insisted he go to the emergency room when he felt a tingling sensation in his little finger and on his lip.  It turned out Henig was having a minor stroke.  That stroke led to blood tests, which gave him his cancer diagnosis.

Proactive Health

Though Henig was exposed to many chemicals working around chemical plants most of his career, he isn’t sure how he contracted MDS.  But many of the ailments that plague men— such as heart disease, diabetes, and even depression— can be triggered by stress, lifestyle, poor dietary conditions, and lack of physical activity.  Dr. Alvarado also frequently sees problems with hormonal imbalances like testosterone deficiencies, increased incidence of hypertension diabetes, and abnormal lipid profiles.  Where female patients are more likely to address health issues and talk to their doctors, men tend not to discuss these issues unless they have a long-term relationship with their physician.

Unlike Henig, the majority of men are diagnosed with prostate cancer.  One out of every six men will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime, although most don’t die from it.  The American Cancer Society recommends that men of average risk should start the discussion about a possible prostate cancer screening at age 50, but Dr. Alvarado judges on a case-by-case basis.  “When it comes to screening for prostate cancer, which is a very controversial topic nowadays,” he continues, “I take individualized care.  We make risk assessments unique to each patient and come up with a plan to get the best possible outcome and approach for a screening of prostate cancer based on several risk factors.”  Risk factors include age, race and ethnicity, geography, and family history.  Dr. Alvarado also provides his patients with education about current recommendations from different organizations regarding the most appropriate approach for prostate cancer screening.

Education is key.  Dr. Alvarado’s first teacher was his father, who taught him many health lessons, but he recognizes that in today’s world, it can be a challenge to take the time to learn and live a healthy lifestyle.

Best Advice

Despite his cancer, Henig considers himself a relatively healthy man at the age of 83.  “I try to live a healthy life,” he shares.  He takes chemo one week a month and stays active by walking, and attends the monthly Man-to-Man Cancer Support Group at Winter Haven Hospital.  “The support group is educational and emotionally supportive,” says Henig.  He explains the support group picks up where doctors leave off.  Members educate each other on different medications, clinical trials, and information that doctors don’t always have the time to go into.  “You want to go into it a little deeper so that’s where we learn a lot from our support group, talk to others and see how they’re doing, and everyone listens and gets to tell people all about it,” he elaborates.

As medicine continues to evolve and advance, Dr. Alvarado suggests men get more active and develop health goals as well as a plan to obtain those goals for themselves and their families.  “I would like to encourage fathers to pass along the importance of routine and preventative care as the cornerstone of health and to establish long-term relationships with healthcare providers to develop an individualized and personalized health risk assessment on a yearly basis,” says Dr. Alvarado.  Henig had his own advice for a long and healthy life, stressing the importance of staying in touch with the ones you love, as well as staying active and eating a good, balanced diet.  “That’s the only thing I would say to them,” he concludes.  “And stay positive.”

story by BONNY JOHNSON

portrait by LUIS BETANCOURT

Categories: Features, Health News