Whidbey General Hospital

Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

It is estimated that half of all men and a third of all women will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Learn some ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Think Pink
"Think pink" - Leaders at Whidbey General wore pink to work in February 2012 in support of breast cancer awareness.

Cancer is caused by a cell in our body that starts to grow out of control due to a change in the cell’s DNA. Cells grow faster in a disorganized manner, leading to the development of tumors or abnormal blood cells. This process is called carcinogenesis and continues to be researched extensively.

Cancer may be caused by things we do, like smoking, or things we are exposed to, like chemicals or secondhand smoke. More studies are showing that genetics can also play a part – in fact we are finding that one out of 20 cases of cancer is linked to genes that we inherit from our parents!

In a nutshell, there are many causes of cancer, some that we can control and many that we cannot. The good news is that we can make changes and choices in our lives to prevent the development of cancer, and participate in screening to find cancer early and increase our chances of living for many years.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2012 about 173,000 deaths will be caused by tobacco use and nearly 200,000 cancer-related deaths will be related to poor nutrition, physical inactivity and obesity. For some, positive life-style changes require only a bit more diligence, while others will take more commitment. Some of these changes also reduce the risk of heart disease.

It is estimated that half of all men and a third of all women will develop cancer at some point in their lives.

By following these guidelines, you can impact your life as well as influence someone close to you.


Tobacco Cessation

Tobacco smoking declined by about 19% between 2005 and 2009, and there were sharp declines in smoking among teens in 2010 and 2011. Smoking and smokeless (e.g. chewing) tobacco use continues to be a problem for developing lung and oral cancers and is attributed to 30% of cancer deaths, including 80% of lung cancer deaths.

Smoking weakens the immune system, irritates the lining of the lungs, and interferes with breathing. Smoking is the major cause of chronic lung disease such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. If you have tried to quit and failed, you are not alone. Without support, about one-third of quitters relapse within 24 hours of quitting and by 48 hours, two-thirds have resumed smoking.

The sheer physical discomfort caused by nicotine withdrawal can overwhelm even the most determined individual. There are new treatments to assist you in quitting smoking. After a few days, the nicotine is out of the system, and the hardest part of quitting is the habit of smoking, not the addiction to the tobacco. Find support and try again!

Learn about American Cancer Society tips for quitting tobacco.


Protect Yourself from the Sun

Skin cancer is epidemic. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. More than two million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are found in this country each year. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for more than 75,000 cases of skin cancer in 2012, and is responsible for 9,000 or the nearly 12,000 deaths due to skin cancer every year. Guidelines for protection are:

Slip/Slop/Slap: Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat!
There are ways for you to prevent skin cancers and still enjoy the outdoors by following these tips:

      • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest.
      • Seek shade and teach kids about the shadow rule – If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
      • Slip on a shirt/clothes made of tightly woven cloth are best.  It should be difficult to see through it when you hold it up to light.
      • Slop on sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Use about a palmful every 2 hours when outside and reapply after swimming and drying off.
      • Slap on a hat with a wide-brimmed hat, shading your face, ears, and neck. If you choose a baseball cap, remember to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
      • Wrap on sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV absorption to provide optimal protection for the eyes and surrounding skin.

Action Plan: Use these tips even when it is cloudy – UV rays still come through and can cause sun damage – a good thing to remember living in the Pacific Northwest!

Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds and sun lamps are dangerous. They also damage your skin in other ways

Look for Whidbey General at the 2012 Whidbey Island Fair and get your free sunscreen!

Get Active – Eat Healthy!

Diet and activity have much more influence on your risk of cancer than you think. Each year, more than 572,000 Americans die of cancer; about one-third of these deaths are linked to poor diet, physical inactivity and carrying too much weight. This happens because the extra weight causes your body to produce more estrogen and insulin. These hormones can stimulate cancer cells.

Except for quitting smoking, some of the most important things you can do to help reduce your cancer risk are:

Get to and stay at a healthy weight – find your ideal weight by calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI) on the American Cancer Society website.

Be physically active on a regular basis – recommendations are for 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week. Moderate activity is any activity that causes your body to work harder than normal. This means your heart beats faster, your muscles contract, and your body temperature rises.

Choose an activity you are comfortable with. Many people walk because it is cheap, straightforward and easy to work up to 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. Gardening, dance classes and playing catch with the kids works, too. Just do it! Remember, physical activity is good for your heart and can help prevent diabetes, too! If you do not currently exercise, you should talk to your health care provider regarding the best way to get started and stay active.

      • Make healthy food choices with a focus on plant-based foods – Read labels for portion sizes and calories, and limit the amount of processed food you eat.
      • Eat five or more servings (at least 2 ½ cups of fruits & vegetables daily)
      • Limit high fat foods

Action Plan: Grab your athletic shoes and get moving! Check out your BMI and consult with your health care provider about making healthy changes!

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Drinking alcohol is not recommended. Men who drink alcohol should limit their drinks to no more than two per day, and women should limit their number of drinks to one per day, due to smaller body size and slower metabolism of alcohol. There is convincing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and liver. This risk is multiplied for drinkers who also smoke.


Prevention of Cervical Cancer & HPV Vaccine

HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection in the US, with nearly 6.2 million people infected every year. This infection has been linked to about 70% of cervical cancers and has more recently been linked to vulvar, anal and oral cancers.

HPV vaccines are now available to directly protect people against the HPV types 16, 18, 6 & 11. It is recommended for both males and females – usually around the ages of 11 and 12 because it should be given before they become sexually active. Three shots are given in a series over six months.

Action Plan: Discuss with your provider about the appropriateness of the shots for yourself or your children.

By Carla Jolley, ARNP, MN, AOCN  & Renee Yanke, ARNP, MN, AOCN  - Whidbey General Hospital

American Cancer Society.  (2012)  Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts and Figures, 2012.  Accessed 7/25/12 at www.cancer.org.


Early Detection of Cancer

Finding cancer early has great benefits, including the impact on survivorship. If cancer is found early, there is a higher rate of cure and long term control. The American Cancer Society has established guidelines for screening for cancers such as breast, cervical, colon, prostate and skin cancers.

A common concern with health care is the coverage of screening. Medicare pays for certain preventive health care services and for some of the tests used for early detection. It also covers a “Welcome to Medicare” physical and a yearly wellness exam.

Call the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345, or visit their website to learn more about cancer prevention and early detection.

Local resources for assistance with mammograms at Whidbey General include the Soroptimist fund and the Washington State Breast, Cervical and Colon Health Program (BCCHP). The Breast Cervical and Colon Health Program for Island County is managed by Citrine Health in Everett. They have contracts with clinics, labs and hospitals to provide care. Currently, North and South Whidbey Community Clinics are contracted to provide care, along with Whidbey General for mammograms, labs and other services.

Men and women who wish to access the BCCHP need to call Citrine health for enrollment. At Citrine Health, enrollment coordinator Ann Miles can be reached at 425-259-9899. She will help determine if you are eligible for screening and assist in arranging appointments. The Center for Disease Control, Washington state and the Susan G. Komen Foundation provide support the BCCHP.

--Renee Yanke, ARNP, MN, AOCN


Outstanding Quality


Dr. John Hassapis, Renee Yanke, ARNP and Dr. John Hoyt serve on the Whidbey General Cancer Care Committee.


The Commission on Cancer re-accredited our cancer care program in 2012 with the maximum eight commendations. Very few hospitals achieve this distinction. We also received the commission's annual Outstanding Achievement Award, an honor shared in 2012 by only 79 hospitals in the country and one other hospital in Washington. Read more about this prestigious award.


"All of you shine with love and caring!— That includes the doctors, nurses, clerical staff and others we’ve encountered and are blessed to have met. Why we’re here is not our choice, but we couldn’t think of a better place to go through this journey. We are so grateful." Read more comments about our Cancer Care Program.

Dear 16 yr. Old Me

Dear 16-year-old me

This brief video describes the dangers of melanoma and tells how to protect yourself from this aggressive form of cancer. Watch video.