By Dr. Kathleen Toomey, medical director of The Steeplechase Cancer Center at Somerset Medical Center
February is National Cancer Prevention Month, established to raise awareness of the importance of being proactive in the fight against cancer. Annual statistics recently reported from the American Cancer Society show the death rate from cancer in the US has fallen 20% from its peak in 1991, translating to almost 1.2 million deaths from cancer that were avoided. The large drop in cancer deaths, particularly for lung, colon, breast and prostate cancers, is attributed to improvements in early detection and treatment and raised public awareness of preventative lifestyle changes. Cancer is a tough topic for people to confront, but if you take the time to get informed, you can greatly reduce your risk.
Step One: Make healthy lifestyle choices.
While it’s certainly difficult and costly to dive head-first into an all-organic lifestyle
and enroll in a variety of classes at a high-end gym, it’s not difficult to implement small lifestyle changes that will inevitably make a big impact. Try making the following changes in your daily life and reap the healthy benefits, and remember: making even one small change can make a difference.
- Stop smoking. Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and can greatly increase a person’s risk of developing other types of cancer as well. Stopping at any age can add up to 10 years to your lifespan (New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 24, 2013 issue).
- Practice moderation. The amount of alcohol you drink, and how long you’ve been drinking alcohol regularly, affects many different parts of your body and can lead to different types of cancer. Limit yourself to prevent potential health issues from arising.
- Get moving. Aim to exercise for 30 minutes each day to keep your body strong and fit. Obesity has a strong link to many different types of cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight greatly reduces your risk.
- Practice safe sun. Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. Use sunscreen, wear a t-shirt and hat when you’re out in the sun, and limit direct exposure to sunlight during the afternoon hours when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Take control of your diet. Along with staying smoke-free, a balanced diet has been proven to reduce the risk of cancer, as well as numerous other diseases. Incorporate fruits and nonstarchy vegetables into your daily intake to take advantage of their natural vitamins and minerals.
Step Two: Follow recommended medical guidelines for early detection.
Medical associations review standard practice guidelines continuously, in consideration of the latest medical research and clinical studies, to ensure their
recommendations to patients reflect healthcare advancements. Adhere to the following guidelines to make sure that any issues are diagnosed early when you’ll have more treatment options and better odds for a good outcome:
- Women over the age of 40 should have yearly mammograms to monitor for breast cancer.
- Men and women over the age of 50 should have a colonoscopy every 10 years to monitor for colon cancer.
- Women over the age of 21 should have a pap test every 3 years to monitor for abnormalities and cervical cancer.
- At-risk patients, ages 55 and older, with long histories of heavy smoking, should consider screening through low-dose CT scans each year to monitor for lung cancer.
- Men over the age of 50 should begin going for prostate screenings each year to monitor for prostate cancer. Men who are at high-risk should begin screenings earlier.
- Visit a dermatologist annually to monitor for any cancerous skin changes.
- At your yearly physical, make sure you update your physician on any family or lifestyle changes. Depending upon your family history, you may be more likely to develop certain cancers. Keep an open dialogue with your physician to make sure all of your bases are covered.
Step Three: Be conscious of your body’s changes.
Remember, early detection starts at home. Monitor yourself regularly and pay attention to any changes you notice in your body. If you start to feel differently or you come across anything abnormal, do not hesitate to visit your physician. The earlier you discover an issue, the better your changes are for beating it.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to start taking preventative measures against cancer. Make sure you know yourself and your body, your family history, and your individual risk for certain types of cancer. Early detection is crucial in significantly increasing your chances of beating cancer, and making healthy lifestyle choices will lead to a better quality of life overall, helping to reduce your risk. It may seem hard to make these changes, but National Cancer Prevention Month is a great time to start. Join up with family and friends, and motivate each other to take control of your own health.