Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Death, Cancer, and Sexy Organs

If we live long enough, we’ll all eventually get cancer. On a long enough timeline, we may all be struck by lightening, too, and an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters will reproduce the works of Shakespeare (except that all the major characters will be monkeys and there will be much more flinging of feces), but these scenarios are all very abstract. We don’t have infinite time. We have years, decades, some of us more than others. And within that time frame, cancer can and will appear.

If you need proof of this, look only to your testicles (or, for women and eunuchs and testicular cancer survivors, look to your metaphoric testicles). Relatively complex organs geared towards reproduction and surging with exciting bodily hormones, testicles are a prime location for the generation of errant tissue and, in fact, testicular cancer is all but guaranteed for men who live to the age of 80.

(This isn’t actually a health problem, because your average 80-year-old will die long before their testicular cancer has any negative impact on their health. Which is why routine screening for testicular cancer in senior patients is no longer advised. The more you know.)

Looking for the female equivalent of the time-bomb-esque testicles, we find the breasts and the ovaries - sexual organs whose cancer rates are similarly high. Ovarian cancer is known for being deadly (as it has easily ignored symptoms and cannot readily be screened for), and breast cancer is known for being a giant pink clad diva which hogs air time and funding dollars. (All the other cancers are jealous of breast cancer.)

Every period a woman has elevates her risk of breast cancer, and so, for fertile menstruating women, that risk is steadily rising over time. Women in time’s past had it easy, what with constantly starving, being pregnant, and/or breastfeeding, cutting their overall number of periods and thus their breast cancer risk. Not so for today’s women, who’s rates of breast cancer have never been higher.

(Sidenote: this link between overall number of periods and breast cancer risk is a constant source of odd demographics and perplexed news articles: Earlier periods linked to breast cancer! Eating ice-cream regularly linked to breast cancer! Childhood obesity linked to breast cancer! More sex equals less breast cancer!

Childhood obesity can cause earlier onset of puberty, which means a larger number of periods over a woman’s lifetime. Having a certain amount of body fat and dietary fat is necessary for women to menstruate, hence more ice cream equals more periods. And sex is linked to pregnancy, which lowers a woman’s risk of breast cancer by filling her womb with fetus, causing fewer periods.)

The point of which is: I found a lump in my breast and had to go for an ultrasound and it was really scary. It wasn’t cancer, it was just lumpy breast. But it was scary. I’m glad I don’t have cancer.

The end.