Understanding family cancer syndromes important

Published: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 2:56 PM

            Though such instances are rare, an elevated risk for certain types of cancer can be passed down from generation to generation. Metro News Service photo
Though such instances are rare, an elevated risk for certain types of cancer can be passed down from generation to generation. Metro News Service photo

Few, if any, families have not been affected by cancer. While no individual or family is immune to cancer, some families may be more at risk of developing certain types of cancer than others.

In many instances, cancers that run in families can be linked to behaviors that families share. For example, families that smoke tobacco may be more vulnerable to cancer than those that don’t, as the smoke from tobacco is known to contain dozens of carcinogens. Cancer can affect multiple generations even in families in which only one person smokes, as exposure to secondhand smoke also increases cancer risk.

But poor behaviors or the effects of those behaviors are not the only cancer risk factors that can be passed down from generation to generation. According to the American Cancer Society, between 5 and 10 percent of all cancers result directly from gene mutations inherited from a parent. When cancers within a family are strongly linked to such mutations, this is known as family cancer syndrome.

Cancer is not necessarily caused by a family cancer syndrome, even if gene mutations are inherited. But the following factors may make it more likely that cancers in a family are caused by a family cancer syndrome:

Many cases of the same type of cancer, especially if the cancer is considered uncommon or rare

Cancers that occur at an abnormally young age within a family compared to the median age such cancers are typically diagnosed among the general population

More than one type of cancer in a single person

Cancers that occur in both of a pair of organs, such as in both kidneys, both breasts or both eyes

More than one childhood cancer in siblings

Cancer that occurs in a sex that is not usually affected by that type of cancer, such as a man being diagnosed with breast cancer

Before discussing the potential of a family cancer syndrome with their physicians, men and women can survey their family histories with the disease. Adults can make a list of the people in their families who have been diagnosed with cancer, noting their relationship to each individual and which side of the family each person is on.

List the type of cancers each person was diagnosed with, placing an asterisk or note next to types that are considered rare or unusual.

In addition, list the age of diagnosis for each family member and whether or not they developed more than one type of cancer. While this may be difficult to determine, try to learn if each relative diagnosed with cancer made any lifestyle choices that might have contributed to their diagnosis. Such choices include smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and activity level.

Family cancer syndromes are rare, but understanding them can still help families make the right lifestyle choices. More information about family cancer syndromes is available at www.cancer.org.

This 84-year-old is a demon on the dance floor

Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 12:52 PM

The reality of caring for aging parents Part II

Good genes have a lot to do with it.

But a good hat doesn’t hurt.

“I have so many hats, I can’t even count them,” Andre D’Alessandro says. “Forty hats. Just a round figure.”

The hats are only part of the reason that D’Alessandro cuts a dashing figure in a dance club.

He’s got the moves. He’s got the look. And he gets the girls. There are always two or three young ladies waiting to partner with him when the band strikes up “Get the Party Started” or “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” and he busts out his best steps, twisting and shimmying and shaking his moneymaker. He’s a demon on the dance floor.

We can’t tell you what it’s because of. But we can tell you what it’s in spite of. His age: 84.

“I think I just have a gift,” says D’Alessandro, a Lake Parsippany resident. “I’ve never seen anyone in their 80s who can move like me. I don’t even know the song. I just move. The young ones, they say, ‘Where do you get your energy?’ I say, ‘That ain’t nothing,’ sweetheart.’ ”

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Most Friday nights, he can be seen boogieing to the beat at Mount Holleran Towne Tavern in Parsippany, 15 minutes from his home. Everyone knows him there: the bartenders, the bandleaders, and the women — of all ages — who count on Andre to dance with them when their husbands and boyfriends won’t.

“He loves to dance and he’s full of life,” says Donna Gauss of Lake Hiawatha, one of Andre’s frequent Towne Tavern dance partners. “He’s got the moves.”

It’s not unusual for the bandleader to ask Andre up on the stage with a request to “bring your ladies with you.” Once, Andre even jumped up onto the bar and began to dance up a storm, à la Pee-wee Herman. Management, for insurance reasons, has discouraged him from repeating the experiment.

“People took pictures of me,” he says. “They couldn’t get over that I jumped off the bar. Everybody was worried that I was going to get hurt. I’m very active that way.”

Even without the gymnastics, D’Alessandro is Towne Tavern’s resident trend-setter. “People saw me with hats,” he says. “Now I see them wearing hats. And they never wore hats before.”

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A song that Andre doesn’t dance to is a song the band will probably drop from its set list, says Mark Halatin of Montville. He’s drummer for the JM Band, one of the regular acts in rotation at Towne Tavern. And they all know Andre well.

“You don’t realize he’s that old,” Halatin says. “You wonder what he did when he was younger.”

Actually, when he was younger, he was kind of shy, D’Alessandro says.

“I used to be very bashful,” he says. “One time (my wife and I) were doing the jitterbug, years ago, and they made a circle around us two, and I saw these people looking at me. I spun my wife around and I left her on the floor. I walked away. And she said, ‘Don’t you ever do that to me again.’ ”

It was his wife, Ann, who died in 2010, who first encouraged him to strut his stuff, D’Alessandro says. Towne Tavern isn’t the only hot spot where he’s been spotted since he first started stepping out around 2011. But it has become a sort of home base. “At my age, I don’t feel comfortable going far and getting lost,” he says. “I go to the Towne Tavern because my car knows how to go there.”

Looking for a relationship

D’Alessandro, a retired mechanic, is the youngest of 13 children from Newark. Apart from Andre and an older brother, no one in the clan (there are four remaining, himself included) was especially notable for their pep, he says.

“I would say the one brother — he’s 93 now — was always strong and active,” D’Alessandro says. “Me and him have a lot of energy.”

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Needless to say, the John Travolta of Morris County is not at a loss in the dating department. Only, he says, he doesn’t really want dates.

“I can get dates every day, that’s not my problem,” he says. “I tell them I want a relationship. That’s my big problem right now. I’ve been married too long. I loved my wife, I had a great marriage, I have two sons. I want a relationship. I want somebody that, if I’m sick, they’re gonna give me soup or something.”

This is not just a story about a remarkable guy who has the energy of a man half his age. It is also, says his friend Marilyn Trauth of Parsippany, a more universal story, about seniors, and what they’re capable of, and how the world looks at them.

“People think old people don’t have a life anymore,” Trauth says. “They don’t think they like to dance. They don’t think they like to date. They do. I think that surprises younger people.”

Frankly, when it comes to moxie, the younger guys at the tavern don’t usually give D’Alessandro much competition.

They need to get up, get out, exercise like he does, D’Alessandro says. That’s why he gets all the girls.

“I tell all the guys, you’re lazy.” he says. “You guys, you’re either watching a baseball game or a football game, and you’re too lazy to get up and get your own beer. You’re sitting on a couch. I’ve never done that.”

Being stubborn may help you live longer, new study suggests

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 3:50 PM

Tips for Living a Long Life

Stubbornness may actually be a trait that helps people live longer, a new study suggests.

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Published this week in the academic journal "International Psychogeriatrics", the study examined the mental and physical health of elderly Italians living in a remote village nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains. The researchers behind the study, who hail from the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San Diego School of Medicine, found many common personality traits between the elderly village residents, including stubbornness.

The research looked specifically at 29 individuals aged 90 to 101, comparing them to 51 younger family members aged 50 to 75. Interestingly, the older group was found to have better overall mental health, even though the younger group was physically healthier.

"The main themes that emerged from our study, and appear to be the unique features associated with better mental health of this [older] rural population, were positivity, work ethic, stubbornness and a strong bond with family, religion and land," Dilip V. Jeste MD, senior author of the study and senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement.

To analyze the participants, the researchers used a quantitative rating scale as well as qualitative interviews. They discussed topics including migrations, traumatic events and beliefs with the elderly individuals. Younger family members were also analyzed using the same quantitative scale, while also being asked to describe the personalities of their older relatives.

"The [older] group's love of their land is a common theme and gives them a purpose in life. Most of them are still working in their homes and on the land. They think, 'This is my life and I'm not going to give it up,'" Anna Scelzo, first author of the study with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in Chiavarese, Italy, explained.

"We also found that this group tended to be domineering, stubborn and needed a sense of control, which can be a desirable trait as they are true to their convictions and care less about what others think," Scelzo said.

"This tendency to control the environment suggests notable grit that is balanced by a need to adapt to changing circumstances."

Many in the elderly group spoke about their passion for life, sometimes despite heartache and sadness.

"I am always thinking for the best. There is always a solution in life. This is what my father has taught me: to always face difficulties and hope for the best," one participant said.

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The new study is also unique in that it examined long life from a psychological perspective.

"There have been a number of studies on very old adults, but they have mostly focused on genetics rather than their mental health or personalities," Jeste pointed out.

"Studying the strategies of exceptionally long-lived and lived-well individuals, who not just survive but also thrive and flourish, enhances our understanding of health and functional capacities in all age groups," he said.

So, while the study does not conclude that stubbornness is guaranteed to make you live longer, a strong correlation was noted. Jeste also points out that the study shows "well-being and wisdom increase with aging" despite a decrease in physical health.

Beyond stubbornness and strong mental health, numerous recent studies have suggested correlations between particular habits and longer life. 

A survey of previous research published last month suggests that drinking three to four cups of coffee per day is connected with lower risks of premature death, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, dementia and some cancers. Other scientific studies suggest that calorie restrictive diets, dancing and having sex regularly may all slow down the aging process as well.


5 ways to stick with your New Year's fitness resolutions

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 2:37 PM

Tips For Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions

Many people make fitness-related New Year's resolutions, only to see them fall by the wayside. It's why gyms are packed in January, but back to normal by April.

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How can you keep the momentum going throughout the year to achieve your goal of better health and/or weight loss?

These five tips will help you stick to your New Year's fitness resolutions:

Make one change at a time

It's easy to start off the New Year full of energy and grand plans, but starting small will give you a greater chance of success, according to the Mayo Clinic. Instead of planning an unrealistic workout schedule, aim for three days a week. Rather than swearing off all your favorite unhealthy treats, vow to limit them to a day or two a week.

As you succeed with smaller steps, these habits will soon become a routine that you can build on as you add new goals.

In this May 25, 2016 photo, members of the running group “November Project” run up and down the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington. Fitness buffs around the country are bringing the ‘take the stairs’ advice to a whole new level as noteworthy landmarks have become unlikely, yet popular new workout sites. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Don't go it alone

CNN cites a study that showed social interaction makes people more likely to work out. Instead of going it alone, sign up for a fitness class, join a local running club, walk with a friend during lunch or hire a personal trainer. The social aspect will help keep you going, and you'll be less likely to bail on your plans to exercise.

Even if you don't have people to work out with, a virtual fitness community like those you can create with a FitBit can help you keep on track.

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Make it fun

Exercise doesn't have to be drudgery, positive psychology researcher Michelle Gielan told WebMD. Find a way to get fit that also lets you have fun, such as a dance class or other type of exercise that makes you feel happy. If you don't dread it, you'll be more likely to keep going.

Keep a food diary

Losing weight is a popular New Year's resolution. While no one strategy works for everyone, a food diary can be a helpful part of your success. Otherwise, it's easy to underestimate just how much you're eating, forgetting about that vending machine candy bar at work or the snack you had while watching TV.

One study found that people who kept a food diary lost more pounds than people who didn't, according to Business Insider. Consistency was key, whether you keep a printed diary or use an app to help.

Don't be too hard on yourself

It's unrealistic to think that you'll be perfect as you strive to attain your exercise or healthy eating goals, the American Psychological Association says.

Accept that you're going to have some ups and downs, and realize that what's important is getting back on track. Otherwise, a missed workout or two can derail you for the rest of the year.


Women’s hands really are colder than men’s, scientists confirm

Published: Sunday, December 10, 2017 @ 2:10 PM

Women's hands really are colder than men's, according to scientists. Researchers found women's hands are typically 2.8 degrees colder. Scientists guess think differences in body size, hormones and composition are the cause. Cold hands is not usually a medical issue, except for people with Reynaud's disease.

Ladies, raise a gloved hand if your hands feel as frozen as Elsa’s, especially in the winter.

Women’s hands generally are colder than men’s, and the old saying “cold hands, warm heart” may go a long way to explaining why.

Using thermal images, University of Utah researchers compared the hands of men and women, and found that women’s hands typically run 2.8 degrees Fahrenheit colder than men’s.

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Exposure to cold — whether it comes from taking a cold shower or a wintry walk outside — causes blood vessels in the hands and feet to contract, reducing blood flow there as the body seeks to protect the heart and other vital organs.

While this happens in men and women, the cold response is much quicker for women.

It’s still a bit of a mystery why, but scientists suggest that differences in body size, composition and hormones are the culprits.

Women have more body fat and less muscle than men. The fat protects the vital organs, including the uterus, but it also restricts blood flow to the extremities.

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Women also tend to lose heat faster from their skin because they’re generally smaller than men.

That explains why so many women are shivering in office cubicles next to their male co-workers wearing short sleeves.

For most women, having cold hands, though uncomfortable, isn’t cause for concern — unless it is a symptom of a medical condition known as Raynaud’s.

Raynaud’s disease causes fingers and toes to feel numb and cold in response to chilly temperatures or stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition causes small blood vessels that carry blood to the extremities to spasm and severely constrict, affecting blood flow. This can lead to tissue damage.

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Women are five times more likely than men to have Raynaud’s. Symptoms include: icy fingers or toes, skin color turning white or blue with exposure to cold or stress, and red with stinging pain after warming up.

There are two types of Raynaud’s — primary and secondary. The secondary type is caused by an underlying condition and is less common. The primary type is linked to family history.