Treating cancer demands a ferocious fight using the latest molecular-based precision medicine and personalized care that embraces the body, mind, and spirit. But what if we brought even the smallest fraction of this intensity to protecting ourselves against cancer?
Using a little thought and recent major breakthroughs in science and genetics, we can all find ways to reduce our cancer risks significantly.
Let’s start with the core preventative elements: avoiding tobacco use, being sun-safe, eating healthy, getting active, protecting against HPV, and knowing environmental and genetic factors. Sure, these seem relatively straightforward, but the “it-won’t-happen-to-me” thought process is part of our survival instinct.
Small Changes Making Big Differences
To get started on significant life changes, the first small steps can make all the difference. For example, if you smoke or use chewing tobacco, start quitting by combining nicotine replacement gum, patches, or lozenges with counseling or a support group to increase your chances of success. And if you don’t succeed the first time, keep trying. You can do it.
Increasing your sun protection can start with the simple step of keeping sunscreen or hats and SPF clothing at the ready in your purse, school backpack, car, boat, camper, golf bag, gardening supplies, or with whatever gear you use when you’re out and about.
Eating better can begin with little things such as planning one good, lower calorie/high nutrition meal every day or every other day. According to the American Cancer Society:
“For most Americans who do not use tobacco, the most important cancer risk factors that can be changed are body weight, diet, and physical activity. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition, and thus could be prevented.”
Good Food and Good Going
Another key to eating well is the availability of fresh, healthy foods. Sometimes this access goes beyond the individual and requires a community effort to ensure local grocery stores and markets are providing the fresh fruits, grains, vegetables, and proteins that are the building blocks of a healthier diet.Adding more physical activity to your day can start with a few minutes of movement. This movement can be as basic as taking the stairs, walking the dog a little further, letting yourself dance to a song you love, or even playing a game or sport you once enjoyed. Again, the idea is to take those first, tiny steps that lead to real change.
One of the most significant problems we face is the unattainable goals fueled by social media and advertising. We’re barraged with supplements, fad diets, fitness devices, and other supposed quick-fix solutions that can often overpromise and underdeliver in their results. Try keeping it simple, being kind to yourself, and just finding a few activities that get you away from the desk, couch, or kitchen table on more occasions.
Screenings, Vaccinations, and Less Stress
No matter how aggressively we pursue cancer prevention, we cannot avoid recommended screenings. These screenings can include head-to-toe monitoring of the skin, all age-appropriate tests, and annual or semi-annual physicals that include blood and urine testing. To learn more about cancer screening and what tests are recommended based on your age, click here.
The American Cancer Society also recommends the HPV vaccine for girls and boys at age 11 or 12. With an estimated 1/3 of all sexually active adults carrying the virus, HPV is responsible for more than 31,500 new cancer diagnoses each year in the United States. The vaccine offers a lifetime of protection against up to 90% of HPV cancers.
There’s also the stress of daily life. While the evidence that stress itself can cause cancer is weak, there can be links between chronic stress and developing cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute:
“Apparent links between psychological stress and cancer could arise in several ways. For example, people under stress may develop certain behaviors, such as smoking, overeating, or drinking alcohol, which increase a person’s risk for cancer. Or someone who has a relative with cancer may have a higher risk for cancer because of a shared inherited risk factor, not because of the stress induced by the family member’s diagnosis.”
In all this prevention talk, we can never lose sight of having compassion for anyone suffering from cancer. Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, at any time in life, regardless of how hard we work to prevent it. That said, a little prevention can go a long way in reducing the number of new cancer cases each year. And until each form of cancer has a cure, prevention is one of our best cancer fighters
If there’s anything we at Judi and Bill Leonard Institute for Cancer Prevention, Treatment and Wellness can do to aid in your cancer prevention or help educate groups you’re involved with in or around Orange County, California, about ways to reduce their risks, please reach out to us by emailing the institute here.