Strongly held myths or misconceptions are the major barriers
that prevent Hispanics from becoming organ and tissue donors.
Some of these barriers include the belief that doctors will not
try as hard to save the life of a person who is a registered donor,
fear that there is a black market of organs in the U.S., or that
religion does not permit organ and tissue donation.
In reality, doctors will do everything possible to save one’s
life; there are laws against the buying and selling of organs
in the U.S.; and all major religions support donation as a final
act of charity and love.
For information about donation, visit www.DonateLifeNM.org
or call 1-800-355-7427.
The Healthy Geezer
The Healthy Geezer is a new column. It is devoted to the health
questions of “geezers,” all of us lovable and quirky
seniors who are wondering what is going on with these bodies of
ours. It is written by me, Fred Cicetti, a first-class geezer
over sixty who’s been writing about health issues for more
years than I want to talk about. Okay, here’s the first
Q: I’ve been noticing this thing in my
eye. At first I thought it was an eyelash. Then I realized the
thing was actually in my eye. One of my friends told me it’s
a “floater,” and not to worry. What exactly is a “floater,”
and should I see a doctor?
A: To allay any fears you may have, I should tell you that floaters
are usually nothing to worry about. I have them myself. More than
seven in ten people experience floaters. Now for some biology.
The lens in the front of your eye focuses light on the retina
in the back of your eye. The lens is like the one in a camera,
and the retina is like film. The space between the lens and retina
is filled with the “vitreous,” a clear gel that helps
to maintain the shape of the eye.
Floaters occur when the vitreous slowly shrinks over time. As
the vitreous changes, it becomes stringy, and the strands can
cast shadows on the retina. These strands are the floaters. They
can look like specks, filaments, rings, dots, cobwebs, or other
shapes. Floaters are the most vivid when you are looking at the
sky or a white surface such as a ceiling. They move as your eyes
move and seem to dart away when you try to look at them directly.
In most cases, floaters are just annoying. When you discover
them, they are very distracting. But, in time, they usually settle
below the line of sight. Most people who have visible floaters
gradually develop the ability to make them “disappear”
by ignoring them.
When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel may pull away
from the retina, causing “posterior vitreous detachment.”
It is a common cause of floaters, and it is more likely in people
who are diabetics, nearsighted, have had eye surgery, or have
suffered inflammation inside the eye.
These vitreous detachments are often accompanied by light flashes.
The flashes can be a warning sign of a detached retina. Flashes
are also caused by head trauma that makes you “see stars.”
Sometimes light flashes appear to be little lightning bolts or
waves. This type of flash is usually caused by a blood-vessel
spasm in the brain, which is called a migraine. These flashes
can happen without a headache and they are called an “ophthalmic
If your floaters are just bothersome, eye doctors will tell you
to ignore them. In rare cases, a bunch of floaters can hamper
sight. Then a “vitrectomy” may be necessary. A vitrectomy
is a surgical procedure that removes the vitreous gel with its
floaters. A salt solution replaces the vitreous. The vitreous
is mostly water, so patients who undergo the procedure don’t
notice a difference. However, this is a risky procedure, so most
eye surgeons won’t recommend it unless the floaters are
a major impediment.
Many new floaters can sometimes appear suddenly. When this happens,
it usually is not sight-threatening and requires no treatment.
However, a sudden increase in floaters could mean that a part
of the retina has pulled away from its normal position at the
back wall of the eye. A detached retina is a serious condition
and demands emergency treatment to prevent permanent impairment
or even blindness.
What should you do when you notice your first floater? It’s
a good time to get that eye examination you’ve been putting
If you want to ask a question, visit http://www.healthygeezer.com
Cancer disparities in New Mexico among highest
On September 5, the national television networks, ABC, CBS, and
NBC held the first-ever cancer special to air simultaneously on
all three major broadcast networks. The goal of the special “Stand
Up to Cancer” was to increase awareness of how cancer has
affected the population of the United States and raise money to
help fight the disease through several charities.
More than 8,200 New Mexicans will experience a life-altering
cancer diagnosis this year, according to statistics from The New
Mexico Tumor Registry, housed at The University of New Mexico
Cancer Center, the state’s official cancer center based
here in Albuquerque. In fact, 3,512 Sandoval County residents
have been diagnosed with new cancer cases between 1995 and 2004,
and the UNM Cancer Center served 446 patients in the county last
Cancer is second only to heart disease in the cause of deaths
for New Mexicans. Based on a recent study, one in five people
die annually from cancer in the state. “Native Americans
and Hispanics are experiencing significant increases in cancer
incidence and mortality,” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, director
and chief executive officer for the UNM Cancer Center.
Charles Wiggins, UNM Cancer Center Epidemiologist and head of
the statewide New Mexico Tumor Registry says, “Among New
Mexican’s non-Hispanic whites, incidence rates of the most
common cancers are similar to the national average. However, the
state has the highest percentage of Native Americans and Hispanics
in the country. These are populations that are less prone to the
more common cancers and are more likely to have less common cancers
such as cancers of the stomach and gallbladder.”
Among women, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer
of all ethnic groups in New Mexico and the leading cause of cancer
death among Hispanic, Native American, and African American women.
“The median age of breast cancer onset is a decade younger
here than the national average, and the stage of the disease more
advanced among New Mexicans,” said Dr. Melanie Royce, director
of the Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Program at the UNM Cancer
Center. “Our studies show that breast cancer mortality is
increasing among Hispanic and Native American women, with little
or no decrease among non-Hispanic white women in our state.
More than twenty-two percent of New Mexicans lack health insurance
of any kind and do not have access to preventative care. “Hispanics
and Native Americans are less likely to be screened, and are typically
diagnosed at later stages when the cancer is less treatable, resulting
in disproportionately poorer prognoses,” said Wiggins.
The UNM Cancer Center has developed a statewide cancer care network
through collaborative partnerships with community-based healthcare
systems and physicians in the cities of Las Cruces, Santa Fe,
Farmington, and Albuquerque. “The UNM Cancer Center provides
world-class treatment to all New Mexicans, regardless of their
ability to pay for treatment. Last year, we provided more than
$4 million in unreimbursed indigent care. In 2007, the UNM Cancer
Center cared for more than 7,600 cancer patients—from every
county, every health system, and every health plan in New Mexico—in
more than eighty-four thousand ambulatory clinic visits. More
than eighty board-certified oncology physicians at the UNM Cancer
Center diagnosed and treated nearly fifty percent of the adults
and virtually all of the children in New Mexico affected by cancer.”
said Dr. Cheryl Willman. “Native Americans and Hispanics
are experiencing significant increases in cancer incidence and
The University of New Mexico Cancer Center is one of the nation’s
sixty-three premier National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated
Cancer Canters, with the largest team of cancer specialists and
researchers in the state, and it is the Official Cancer Center
of the State of New Mexico.