This column originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of Veterinary Medicine.
Half a century ago at a California Veterinary Medical Association conference, a psychiatrist lecturing on the reasons why people study medicine mentioned that many physicians are careless about their own health. For example, they smoke, eat improperly, and fail to exercise. I'm afraid this problem exists within our own profession, as well. We are medically knowledgeable so we know the risks, but how many of us, in our personal lives, practice the preventive medicine that we preach?
If you are past 40, have you had a routine colonoscopy? Men, when was the last time you had your prostate digitally palpated? When was your last prostate-specific antigen screening? Women, do you have an annual mammogram and Pap smear? Reading the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association obituary page, it is shocking to see how many young women, some in their 30s, are dying of cervical cancer or breast cancer.
None of us is immune. During my first belatedly scheduled colonoscopy, done when I was nearly 60, the doctor said that he saw a suspicious growth and would need to perform a biopsy. I just knew it was a carcinoma, and it was. It was removed surgically, along with 16 inches of my colon. Because the neoplasm was detected early, I never needed chemotherapy, radiation, or any follow-up except for routine colonoscopies every few years, which we allshould have regardless. My shortened colon has not caused me any problems; I suspected it was too long anyway.
My wife is a cancer survivor, as well. She has had both breast and uterine cancer. Again, thanks to early detection, she needed no follow-up therapy after surgical removal of the tumors. Today, I'm 80 and Debby is 74, and we are both in good health and still ski, ride horseback, train horses, and enjoy a busy, peripatetic lifestyle.
Colleagues, please do not allow your role as medical professionals to interfere with logical programs of diagnostic testing. Sometimes fatal diseases such as prostate, breast, cervical, or ovarian cancer often are asymptomatic in the early stages. Not detecting them early may result in complex and uncomfortable oncologic therapies or death. You are not immune! In fact, many of us have had unusual exposure to radiation, hazardous chemicals, and so on that make us more susceptible to cancer.
It's discouraging to know that, almost daily, veterinarians examine dogs with collie nose or white cats with ulcerated ear tips or palpate a mammary or an injection-site mass. They then must explain to the owners the possibility of cancer and its consequences. Meanwhile, the doctor considers himself or herself to be too busy to undergo routine testing for common human cancers.