About 33,000 people in South Carolina learn they have cancer each year. And more than 11,000 people in our state die from cancer each year, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. But those numbers do not have to be so high.

Many cases of cancer may be caused by people eating unhealthy food, not staying active, or using tobacco. You can make changes to help stop cancer. If you find cancer early and get the right care, your chances of living longer or beating cancer are often better.

Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is the largest academic-based cancer program in the state and one of the best in the Southeast. It has many kinds of doctors and other cancer experts. They work together to help patients find the best ways to fight cancer.

Breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer are some of the most common cancers. Learn more about what you can do to help prevent them.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women of all races and ethnic groups in South Carolina. White women are the most likely to get it, but African-American women are more likely than white women to die from it. Men can get breast cancer, too, but it is 100 times more likely in women.

If you detect breast cancer at its earliest stage (Stage 1), there is a 99% rate of living for five years. As cancer spreads to other parts of the body, there is less chance of surviving.

All women should do monthly breast self-checks to spot any changes. If you do not know how to check, ask a health provider to show you. Your health provider should do a check at your yearly exam as well.

If you find a lump, a skin change, or other breast changes, see your health provider right away. Any fluid coming out of your breast that is not normal should be checked too.

Your chances of having breast cancer increase as you get older. Many experts and cancer groups believe mammograms (breast X-rays) can help find cancer early as women reach middle age. Not all people agree, but Hollings Cancer Center says women 40 and older should have a mammogram once a year.

Some women who are at risk for breast cancer might start breast X-rays before age 40. You may be able to get a free breast screening through the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) Best Chance Network. These screenings are for women ages 47 to 64 who do not have a health plan or whose health plan only pays for hospital care.

Hollings Cancer Center's Breast Care Program offers complete services, including advanced breast reconstruction after cancer surgery.

To help prevent breast cancer:

  • Drink alcohol only in moderation
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintan a healthy weight
  • Breastfeed your baby
  • Do not take hormones for a long time during menopause (the change of life).
  • Eat healthy. Eating too much meat and fat can increase your risk.
  • Don’t smoke. Women who start smoking at a young age could be most at risk.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death of men in our country. African-American men are most at risk. They have the highest prostate cancer death rate in the world.

A man’s prostate gland is found between the bladder and the penis. As men age, cancer and other prostate problems are more likely.

Prostate cancer reacts best to treatment when caught early. If the cancer has not spread beyond the prostate gland, the chances of living five more years is 99 percent.

By age 50, a man should start talking with his health care provider about whether to start prostate cancer screenings. A man with a brother or father who has had prostate cancer is even more likely to get it and might want to start screenings earlier.

Screenings can involve a physical test and a blood test called a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test.

Signs of prostate cancer that men can watch for:

  • Weak flow of urine or a flow that stops and starts
  • Frequent need to urinate (especially at night)
  • Trouble urinating
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • A pain in the back, hips, or pelvis that doesn't go away

While these problems may have other causes, you should talk about them with your health provider.

MUSC's Prostate Cancer Program offers more treatment choices than any place else in the state and attracts patients from all over the Southeast.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death in the U.S. for all ethnic groups. In South Carolina, around 4,300 people are told they have lung cancer each year, and 2,900 people die of lung cancer. In South Carolina, men are two times more likely to get lung cancer than women, and two times more likely to die from lung cancer. But lung cancer still kills more women in our state than any other cancer.

The biggest cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoking. It is believed to cause at least 8 out of 10 lung cancer cases. The more you smoke, and the longer you smoke, the greater your chances of getting lung cancer. Quitting--or even cutting back--can help you lower your odds.

Many smokers find it is hard to quit. People in South Carolina can get help with the S.C. Tobacco Quitline. Contact the free service by phone at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) and online.

Lung cancer symptoms often start after cancer starts to grow. If you notice any of the changes listed below, then get checked by a health care provider right away.

Lung cancer symptoms:

  • Chest pain that does not stop
  • It’s hard for you to breathe
  • Wheezing
  • Lung infections that keep returning
  • Bloody or rust-colored sputum
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Pain and weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand
  • Fever for no known reason

MUSC’s Thoracic Cancer Program has a team of experts to treat lung cancer. To learn more or plan a patient visit, contact the nurse navigator at 843-620-0015.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer can be found early or stopped before it even starts by having a screening. More people have been getting checked in the US over the past 20 years. As a result, less people are dying from the disease.

But there is still room to improve. Screening should start at age 50 and continue to age 75 for most men and women. In South Carolina, more than 3 out of 10 people over the age of 50 have never had a colorectal cancer screening.

Colon cancer or polyps might not cause symptoms that you notice, especially early on. Screenings can find polyps (growths that are not normal), so they can be removed before they turn cancerous. Screenings can also find cancer. The earlier you can find and treat cancer, the better.

There’s more than one way to detect colorectal cancer:

  • Stool test. You can get a stool sample at home and send it to your doctor’s lab, so it can be checked for blood. It is good to do this once a year.
  • Checks of the rectum and lower colon by a doctor using a scope. You might do this once every five years, or more if you are high risk. This check is called a sigmoidoscopy.
  • Colonoscopy. This check lets the doctor use a scope to look closely at the rectum as well as the entire colon. You might have this once every 10 years or more often.

Learn more about colorectal cancer and care through the MUSC Digestive Disease Center.