What can you do to help prevent cancer?

By P. Michael Shattuck, M.D., family physician with Community Health Network

In 1971, then president, Richard Nixon, signed legislation that has been labeled as the start of the “war on cancer.” Although the expectations were high, the results have not been as successful as expected. There have been victories in the battle but cancer remains a significant health concern. As heart disease death rates decline, cancer is now the leading cause of death in Americans less than 85 years old.

The good news is that cancer death rates have dropped due to improved treatments, early detection, and changes in lifestyle. Colon, breast, uterine, and prostate cancer deaths have declined felt, at least in part, to be a result of screening and earlier detection. When cancer is detected early, the chances of cure improve greatly. There are more cancer survivors alive today than there ever has been. Lifestyle changes including a decrease in the number of people smoking have decreased the incidence of some cancers.


So, what can you do to decrease your chances of developing cancer? First of all, you can make sure that your lifestyle does not increase your risk. The number one thing that can improve your risk status is to avoid tobacco products especially smoking. Secondly, maintaining a healthy weight by keeping active and eating a healthy diet including fiber, fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of breast, colon and uterine cancer. Limited sun exposure is also felt to lower the risk of skin cancers. Cancer of the cervix has been linked to sexually transmitted viruses, therefore limiting sexual partners and use of condoms can reduce risk. In addition, limiting alcohol intake is felt to lower risk.

Cancer screening is effective if the cancer can be detected in the early stages, even before the cancer is producing symptoms. Organizations like the American Cancer Society have developed guidelines for screening certain groups for certain cancers to try to detect cancers early in asymptomatic individuals. In order for a screening program to be effective, there needs to be an effective treatment intervention available for that cancer. Research has shown that not every cancer can be effectively screened for. The screening programs differ slightly for men and women.

Screening protocols for women have been developed to screen for colon, breast and cervical cancer. These screenings include recommendations for PAP smears, mammograms, and colon testing. Protocols for men include screening for colon and prostate cancer.

The American Cancer Society has published the guidelines regarding the age to start having screenings, the frequency to have screenings, and the specific tests that are recommended. Watch for future articles to discuss the specifics of the screenings.

Even though cancer has not been cured and it remains prevalent in our society, there are things you can do, working with your provider, to help reduce your chance of cancer death.

Stay healthy my friends.




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