Cancer Prevention Strategies
February is cancer prevention month, a good time to remind ourselves that we can take steps to make ourselves less susceptible to developing cancer. I write this from a very personal viewpoint as I have had two loved one’s contract cancers that were entirely preventable. One of them, my mother, died of cervix cancer that spread all over her body. I was only 23 when she died. She hadn’t had a pap smear in years.
My husband was diagnosed with throat cancer, HPV-positive, over five years ago. Although he is now considered cured, he went through a very difficult (and expensive) course of chemotherapy and radiation and is left with side effects from the treatment that make it difficult for him to eat due to a lack of saliva. His one wish is that the HPV vaccine was available when he was young.
According to the American Cancer Society, 42% of cancer cases and 45% of cancer deaths in the U.S. could be prevented by lifestyle changes. That comes out to 750,000 cases of cancer that are potentially avoidable.
So, what can we do to reduce our chances of getting cancer? We’ve all heard the tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle in general, and these apply to helping to prevent cancer as well. We all need to do our best at keeping our weight under control, not using tobacco in any form, drinking alcohol in moderation if at all, using sunscreen routinely, never using a tanning bed, following a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Cancer screening is a powerful tool to help prevent cancers or find them at an early stage when the prognosis is better. Screenings have been shown to increase the survival rates of many types of cancers. There are screening tests available for breast (mammograms), cervix (pap and HPV tests), lung cancer (CT scans), colon cancer (colonoscopies, plus some newer less invasive techniques), skin (direct inspection) and Head & Neck cancers (using a scope to look down the throat). Everyone should learn about who is eligible for cancer screenings https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/screening.htm and make sure to follow through with their appointments. Partners in Care conducts several cancer screenings events each year; keep an eye on our website (https://www.yourpartnersincare.org/) to find out if there is a screening coming to your area.
Finally, there are some vaccines available that can help prevent cancer. The HPV vaccine prevents 6 different types of cancers (cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and throat) and is given to children before they become infected with HPV. The hepatitis-B vaccine helps prevent liver cancer.
As always, everyone should consult with their health care practitioners to determine the best cancer prevention strategies for themselves. I wish my mother had been screened for cervix cancer, and I wish my husband had been able to receive the HPV vaccine when he was a child. Luckily, today we have many tools in our cancer prevention arsenal, and I encourage everyone to take full advantage of them for their own sake and for their loved ones’ sake.