SLCo Healthy Lifestyles Blog
Did you know that nearly 9 out of 10 American adults lack the skills necessary to obtain and understand readily available health information?1
Health literacy is an important component to maintaining and improving our health. Unfortunately, many of us may feel overwhelmed or confused by the over-abundance of information available. How can we become more empowered to better manage our health? The information below provides further clarification of common health literacy related topics such as: what it is, why health literacy is important, who should care about health literacy, what’s being done to address the issue, and finally, what consumers can do to improve their health literacy.
Q: What is health literacy?
A: Are you aware how often you should be receiving preventive screening exams, or what those pamphlets at the doctor’s office really mean? Health Literacy is more than a measurement of reading skills, it is the ability to obtain, understand and use health information when making decisions regarding health and medical care.2-3
Q: Why is health literacy important?
A: Health literacy impacts our health.4 Improving health literacy can decrease death risk, reduce hospitalization and unnecessary ER visits, and increase use of preventive services.3-4 Developing health literacy can also improve one’s ability to fill out forms, share personal information (like health history), receive important screenings, manage chronic conditions, and understand how to properly use medications.3
Q: Who should care about health literacy?
A: Everyone!5 More specifically, health literacy is of particular importance for the elderly, persons with chronic illness or disability, individuals living in poverty, and immigrant populations.5
Q: What is being done to help improve health literacy?
A: Through a number of studies and reviews, several national agencies have looked into ways to improve health literacy. Based on their findings, important recommendations have been identified and several federal initiatives (i.e.
National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy,
Plain Writing Act of 2010, and
the Affordable Care Act of 2010) have been implemented to address the health literacy problem from a systematic or providers perspective.4
Q: What can we do to increase our health literacy?
A: Improving our health literacy takes time, but there are a number of things we can do. Make the most out of your visit to the doctor by:
- Taking a trusted person to your medical visit5
- Asking questions if you don’t understand something - if you still don’t understand, ask for more information (this applies to pharmacies as well as doctors and nurses)5-6
- Always bringing an up-to-date list of your medications and herbal products to your visit (
make a pill card and carry it with you)5-6
- Writing down your questions/concerns before your visit and remember to ask them5
- Asking your provider to write down information and instructions5
- If necessary, asking if the resource/material is available in large print5
- Repeating information back to your doctor/nurse – this gives you the chance to clarify information and can help avoid potentially serious mistakes6
- If you don’t speak/understand English very well, informing the doctor’s office of the need for an interpreter prior to your visit. You have the right to one at no cost to you6
Q: Is there anything else I can do to improve my health literacy?
A: Yes. Learn how to find reliable information online.6 While the internet is a great hub to find information, not all of it is credible. The following tips can help you locate credible and up to date information:
- Use government websites such as National Institutes of Health (
NIH) & Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (
- Search larger non-profit organizations like
American Heart Association &
American Cancer Society6
- If you find information that is concerning, bring it to your next appointment and discuss it with your provider6
E-Cigarettes and 'Vape'-ing
What are they?
E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that deliver nicotine in the form of a vapor. In appearance, e-cigarettes look like cigarettes. Below is a general depiction of an e-cigarette.
Usually, the mouthpiece is either connected to (or is part of) a cartridge that holds the nicotine liquid and flavorings. This is connected to the vaporizer, which turns the liquid into a vapor. The battery is the final piece, and some batteries are rechargeable. The indicator light will glow when the user inhales, but not all e-cigarettes have them.
Are they Harmful?
Two big health concerns with the e-cigarette industry are (1) the increased nicotine
exposure and (2) the lack of regulation from the FDA. Although there is often a reduction of carcinogens and tar-producing chemicals, there may be a dramatic increase in the potency or amount of nicotine present. Nicotine is the addictive chemical, after all, so there isn't much use in smoking e-cigarettes to help you on your path towards quitting. The FDA currently does not regulate the manufacture of e-cigarettes. That being said, an e-cigarette producer may market their product as not having certain carcinogens, but there is no accountability or authority in enforcing the accuracy of these statements.
As a side effect of the lack of FDA regulation, the e-cigarette companies are able to make advertisements and flavors that cater to younger audiences. This can be done through using 'fun' characterizations of using the product, as well as including flavors that younger audiences might enjoy (see picture below). Although there have been great strides over the past few decades in preventing young people from smoking, the worry is that e-cigarettes will reintroduce tobacco and nicotine to adolescents.
Since we don’t know exactly what chemicals are in e-cigarettes, and the FDA isn’t checking, the research hasn’t been able to show what chemicals may be present in second-hand smoke from e-cigarettes or vaporizers. A lthough there are no federal regulations yet, the State of Utah includes the vapor from e-cigarettes as a prohibited type of smoke, according to the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act. This means that if you are not allowed to smoke regular cigarettes at a certain location, then you are also not allowed to smoke e-cigarettes or vaporizers.
According to the
Harvard Medical School, there is some concern that the enjoyment and perceived reduction in risk might reignite the habit in some people who have already quit. Another factor is that many people see e-cigarettes as a step to quitting smoking.
Not only will the nicotine keep them hooked, but reports are now showing that many people use BOTH cigarettes and e-cigarettes, as well as using e-cigarettes more often and for longer periods of time. As one ad says, ‘Why quit? Switch…” This is an accurate representation since switching to e-cigarettes is just a different way to deliver nicotine to the body.
Salt Lake County Tobacco Prevention and Control's website.
January is ...
If caught early, cervical cancer has a survival rate between 93% and 80%. The risk of developing cervical cancer is 3-10 times higher for women who have not had Pap tests.
For starters, cancer is a disease in which the body’s cells grow in unpredictable and unmanageable ways. Cervical cancer is when this occurs in the cervix, which is the lower, narrower end of the uterus. Although the disease only affects women, the family, friends, and surrounding community are also impacted. Cervical cancer screenings are an effective way to detect cervical cancer and to identify the signs of cancer occurring in the future. Since the rate of survival is so high when abnormal cells are detected early, you would imagine that these screenings occur regularly.
Unfortunately, Utah has the lowest rates in the nation for cervical cancer screenings!
There are two main types of cervical cancer screenings; Pap Tests and HPV tests. Pap tests check the uterus and cervix for ‘precancers,’ which are abnormal cell changes that can be observed over time or removed. HPV tests inspect the body for the presence of HPV (Human Papillomavirus), which is a virus that cause cervical cells to start growing abnormally or uncontrollably, leading to cervical cancer.
There are multiple efforts a woman can do to prevent cervical cancer from developing. Preventative measures include:
Click here to learn more about when to get Pap tests and/or HPV vaccines.
Knowing the symptoms of gynecological cancers can help you detect cancer early.
Stages of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer has four main stages of development, Stages 0, I, II, III, and IV. Abnormal cells are identified during Stage 0 (named ‘carcinoma in situ’); the cells can be identified but are not yet cancerous.
Stage I cervical cancer is when the cancer is positively identified but the cancer is only present in the cervix. Depending on the amount of cancer found, there are subcategories of this stage.
Stage II cervical cancer is found when the cancer has spread to other parts of the gynecological area but has not reached the pelvic wall (the tissues between the hips that join them). Again, depending on the amount of cancer present, subcategories of this stage may be used.
During Stage III cervical cancer, the cancer has spread to the lower portion of the vagina, reached the pelvic wall, and/or caused kidney problems.
Stage IV cervical cancer is divided into two categories (IV A and IV B) depending on where the cancer has spread. In IV A, the cancer has spread to nearby organs, such as the bladder or rectum. In IV B, the cancer has spread to various other parts of body, such as lungs, distant lymph nodes, liver, and bones throughout the body.
There are three main types of treatment for cervical cancer, which are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Depending on the amount and type of cancers, surgical options include conization, hysterectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, pelvic exenteration, cryosurgery/cryotherapy, laser surgery, and loop electrosurgical excision procedure/LEEP. With proper treatment, survival rate can be very high. The research STRONGLY supports emphasizes that early detection allows for the best survival rates, which is why screenings and tests are so important. Here are the five-year survival rates based on the stages of cervical cancer development. Also, the mortality rate (the rate at which people die as a result of a particular cause) for cervical cancer is on the decline. In fact, the mortality rate has decreased dramatically over the past 25 years, especially among Black and Hispanic Americans.
*NOTE* The graph above shows two lines, but there are four options listed on the right. Since there were few cases of cervical cancer in Utah, it would not be wise to put the data since it would threaten the anonymity of the individuals who died of cervical cancer. Therefore, this graph only shows US data.
Cervical cancer can be a complicated topic, but all women (and people who care about them) should be aware that cervical cancer is an issue to be addressed, head-strong and with prevention in mind. Regular cervical cancer screenings as well as preventative efforts to lower your risk are key. Don’t let the women in your life put off these life-saving procedures and if you are due for a PAP test, be sure to schedule one. Please consult with your physician if you have medical questions or are interested in screening/prevention measures. In this case prevention is easy, so you owe it to yourself (and to the women in your life) to promote regular screening.
Colorectal Cancer and Screening
What is Colorectal Cancer?
The term “
Colorectal Cancer” is an umbrella term used to describe, both, Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer. Below, you can see the anatomy of the colorectal system (everything in green). As you can see below, the colon has four sections.
- The Ascending Colon: begins where the small intestine attaches to the colon and extends upward on the right side of a person’s abdomen.
- The Transverse Colon: where the colon crosses the body from the right to the left side.
- The Descending Colon: continues downward on the left side
- Sigmoid Colon: joins the descending colon to the rectum, which in turn joins the anus.
Over the course of 10-15 years, polyps can develop in the colon. A
Polyp is a growth of tissue that develops in the lining of the colon or rectum that can become cancerous. One-third to one-half of all people will develop a polyp at some point in their lives.
When caught early, most polyps can be removed easily.
If a polyp is determined to be cancerous, it will be categorized by what Stage it is currently in. The Stage will affect what types of treatments are available. The Stages are as follows:
- In Situ: Cancers that have not yet begun to invade the wall of the colon or rectum; these pre-invasive lesions are not counted in cancer statistics.
- Local: Cancers that have grown into the wall of the colon and rectum, but have not yet extended through the wall to invade nearby tissues.
- Regional: Cancers that have spread through the wall of the colon or rectum and have invaded nearby tissue, or that have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Distant: Cancers that have spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lung.
In this image, the smallest green cancer polyp on the far left is considered In Situ. The next two are considered Local. The next cancer polyp is considered Regional (notice how it has broken the wall of the colon/rectum and has green cancerous material in the nearby lymph node). Finally, the largest polyp is considered Distant (not only has it grown in size, blocking much of the colon/rectum, it has also spread and could be found in other parts of the body).
What are the risk factors?
Family history can be a significant risk factor. For instance, individuals with immediate family members who have had colorectal cancer are 2 to 3 times more likely (than individuals without a family history) to develop it themselves.
Hereditary factors also play a role for some individuals. People diagnosed with Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome have a very high risk for developing colorectal cancer.
Personal medical history may also have an effect. If an individual has had colorectal cancer previously (even if the previous cancer was entirely removed), they are more likely to develop cancer again (especially if the first cancer was diagnosed at age 60 or younger). Other medical conditions raise the risk of developing colorectal cancer, such as inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease, etc.) and diabetes (especially among individuals with Type II, and men).
Physical inactivity is considered one of the biggest risk factors for developing colorectal cancer. The more activity a person engages in, the less likely they are to develop colorectal cancer. It is hard to ignore such a strong correlation!
Being overweight or obese is associated with a higher risk for developing colorectal cancer, especially in men.
Diet plays a crucial role (after all, food is what is passed through the digestive system). The dietary recommendations are to consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant sources, limit consumption of red and processed meats, eat a variety of vegetables and fruits, choose whole grains in preference to processed grains, and be sure to consume a healthy amount of calcium.
Other factors such as using tobacco products and drinking alcohol also can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
What is the Importance of Screening Regularly?
The goals of screening for colorectal cancer are:
- The prevention of cancer through the
detection of pre-cancerous growths, and...
- The diagnosis of cancers at an early stage.
There are multiple ways to be screened for colorectal cancer, so be sure to discuss them with your doctor. Here is an overview of some screening methods:
Colorectal Cancer Screening
It is important to note that there are minimal to no symptoms of colorectal cancer in the early stages. Symptoms only start to become noticeable once an individual reaches later stages, at which point it become harder to treat. Keep reading for an explanation of this graph!
This graph shows the five year survival rates depending on when the cancer was identified. For instance, we will use the example of a Non-Hispanic White Woman. First, locate the graph on the right. Then, locate the dark green bars (there will be 4 of them total, on the left side of each group of bars). This graph is divided by stage of cancer. For instance, when looking at the “Local” group of bars, you see that the green bar extends almost to the 90 mark. That means that Non-Hispanic White Women have an almost 90% chance of surviving at least 5 years after being diagnosed with Local Stage Colorectal Cancer. The next group of bars to the right is the “Regional” set. You will notice that Non-Hispanic White Women have an almost 70% chance of surviving at least 5 years after being diagnosed with Regional Stage Colorectal Cancer. Moving one more bar set to the right, you will see that Non-Hispanic White Women have an almost 12% chance of surviving at least 5 years after being diagnosed with Distant Stage Colorectal Cancer. Notice how the survival rates decrease dramatically as diagnosis reaches the later stages.
The good news, however, is that regular screening methods often catch pre-cancerous polyps and cancerous growths in the Local Stage.
This is why regular screening methods are so important!
Here we can see that between 61.1% – 66.0% of Utahns 50 years or older are getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer. Although this is higher than much of the U.S., the national goal is to get 75% of Americans (3 our of every 4 people) screened regularly. Since NOT A SINGLE STATE meets these guidelines, there is a lot of work to do! Be sure to get screened and to promote screenings among your family and friends.
CONSISTENTLY, people always say that colonoscopies are no big deal, but the PREP is the worst part. Always follow your doctor’s instructions, but patients usually have to drink a large amount of certain liquid solutions to clear out the colon, in order to provide the clearest image for the colonoscopy. Also, patients usually are instructed to not eat any solid foods for the entire day beforehand. Although this can be a lot to ask of someone, here are some tips to making this prep easier.
Don't Forget to Laugh!
Sure, colonoscopies and colorectal screenings may not be fun, but they are essential for early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer. Since you never know what the doctors will find, you should be prepared for anything.
April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month!
Leading Safety Into the Future
What is distracted driving?
According to the CDC, there are three main categories that driving distractions fall into.
- Visual: Taking your eyes off the road.
- Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel.
- Cognitive: Taking your mind off of driving.
Below are some examples of what this can look like. Notice how some of these occur across multiple categories! This is why texting while driving is so dangerous. It combines all three!
What are examples of distracted driving?
- Using a cell phone or smart phone
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Reading, including maps
- Using a navigation system
- Watching a video
- Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
- and any other non-driving activity using your attention
How many have of these have you done?
According to the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in Utah the police are allowed to
pull you over and ticket you for texting and driving ... AND THEY SHOULD!
Who drives distracted
a recent study, researchers from the University of Utah found that when situational circumstances were pretty much the same, "the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving drunk."
distracted? This health issue is unique because anyone can be a distracted driver. After looking at the list of examples mentioned previously, you can see how easy it is to become distracted. Although millions of people may change the radio station while driving, all it takes is one radio station change at the wrong place and the wrong time to have negative consequences. Since most of us use some sort of vehicle everyday, we sometimes forget that cars and automobiles are powerful devices, capable of great assistance as well as great harm. Here is a great video that describes parental distracted driving.
Parents, Be the the Driver You Want Your Teen to Be
What can YOU do?
the pledge to drive cellphone-free! View
this website for helpful links, videos, and infographics. And remind everyone you know to arrive alive by not being distracted when driving!