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Health: Dear Doctor; Dr Mark Porter answers your questions on everything from foot trouble and finding a lump in your breast to fears about cancer and monthly stomach aches.

Byline: Dr Mark Porter

Fast cure for athlete's foot

Can you suggest an alternative remedy to prevent athlete's foot? I am a keen rambler and am due to go on a walking holiday in Spain next month. I take great care of my feet and wear the right socks and footwear, but am always plagued by athlete's foot during the summer months.

Athlete's foot is caused by a fungus which thrives in dark, warm, damp conditions and walking boots provide the perfect environment (as do trainers). There is a range of anti-fungal products available from your pharmacist (powders, creams and sprays) which should keep it at bay and/or get rid of it quickly should you develop it - ask your pharmacist to point you in the right direction. Surgical spirit is an effective alternative - gently wiping between your toes with cotton wool soaked in surgical spirit every morning and evening should keep the fungus at bay. Last, but not least, if you suffer from a lot of fungal infection it might be worth asking your practice nurse to check your sugar levels because it can be an early sign of diabetes.

Symptom of the week


Swimmer's ear is an itchy, painful or discharging ear which occurs in people who spend a lot of time in the water - it normally strikes during holidays when people have more time in the pool or sea. It responds well to ear drops and antibiotics but, if you are a regular sufferer, prevention is better than cure. Your best bet is to keep your ears dry in the shower, bath, pool and sea by wearing watertight ear plugs (only use them when bathing and don't share them with anyone else). Ask your pharmacist to show you the various types.

Next week: A black nail

I am concerned about my wife. She found a small lump in her left breast a couple of weeks ago, but refuses to see her GP saying she is sure it is nothing to worry about. She's 25 and otherwise fit and well. I suggested that I speak to our doctor but she flew off the handle and said no. Maybe she will listen to you.

The golden rule regarding breast lumps is that every lump should be checked out by a doctor - the vast majority turn out to be nothing to worry about, but it pays to be safe because the few that do turn out to be cancerous become more difficult to treat the longer you leave them. Breast cancer can strike at any age but is very unusual in a woman of your wife's age and the lump she has found will almost certainly be benign. The sooner this is confirmed the better. If she still refuses to seek help from her GP then try to get her to phone the Breast Cancer Care Helpline on 0808 800 6000 - they are used to dealing with frightened women who have found a lump. They will even give advice to worried husbands and partners.

I fear bowel cancer

Can bowel cancer run in families? My father died of bowel cancer last month aged 74. He had no idea he had a problem until it was too late and I don't want to make the same mistake.

Bowel cancer is a common disease that kills around 20,000 people a year in the UK, but having a close relative with the condition doesn't necessarily mean you are at any increased risk yourself - although some types can run in families (your father's GP will have the details of the type he had). There is no official screening programme for bowel cancer yet and vigilance remains your best defence. Caught early it is a relatively easy type of cancer to treat. Tell-tale signs include bleeding from your back passage, a change in bowel habit that lasts more than two weeks, unexplained weight loss and/or tummy aches.

Are my stomach aches due to ovulation?

For the last few months I have noticed I get stomach pains in the middle of my cycle and some light spotting down below. A nurse friend has suggested this could be ovulation pain - is that possible?

Some women do experience discomfort, with or without light spotting, when they ovulate. This generally occurs around two weeks before the next period is due and the pain tends to be one-sided and rarely lasts more than 12 hours. There is very little that can be done about it and in most cases it is only a minor nuisance. If the pain is bothering you, your GP may suggest taking the combined contraceptive pill which stops ovulation and should ease the discomfort. Your GP will be able to confirm what is going on.

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PO Box 89, Stroud,

Glos, GL6 7RS,

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 13, 2001
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