April is National Cancer Control Month
Each April, researchers, oncologists, cancer patients and survivors come together to raise cancer awareness, discuss current progress and treatments. While we still seek to “cure” cancer, incremental advancements have been made. Today, two out of three people with cancer live at least five years beyond diagnosis. Comparatively, in the 1970s, only one out of two people lived to the five-year mark. In 2017, there will be an estimated 1,688,780 new cancer cases diagnosed and 600,920 cancer deaths in the US. There is both hope and much more work to be done.
During April, the focus becomes increasing the importance of screening and prevention of cancer. Despite significant cancer death, disease stabilization rates make a strong case for regular screenings and healthy lifestyle choices that may prevent or reduce your risk of cancer. April also offers a chance for families who are currently fighting cancer to find enormous resources and support at community and online events. And, very often, to build a support system with others whose lives have been also impacted by cancer.
Cancer research relies heavily upon federal funding. On December 13th, 2016, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. This bipartisan legislation will go toward bringing the medical breakthroughs we need to meet some of the biggest health challenges Americans face today. In addition to one day finding a cure for cancer, The Cures Act makes substantial investments in research and technology to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, decrease mental illness and the opioid epidemic that has seized our country.
To Screen or Not to Screen
“Screening” refers to the use of certain examinations or tests for people who are not showing any symptoms of cancer but are at high risk for developing certain types of cancer due to genetics, lifestyle, etc. Cancer screening has offered promise for several types of cancer. Early detection often results in higher cure rates.
Numerous factors determine who should undergo cancer screening. Not everyone needs to be regularly screened. Through years of research and cancer treatment, researchers have established risk factors for certain types of cancer. Risk factors vary for different types of cancer.
The two main types of risk factors are:
Genetic risk factors are inherited and unchangeable traits.
Non-genetic factors vary based on a person’s environment, which can likely be changed. Non-genetic factors include exercise, diet or exposure to outside substances. These are often referred to as environmental factors. Sometime non-genetic factors can play a role in the process of healthy cells turning cancerous. For example, the effects between smoking and lung cancer.
Other cancers are known to have a genetic predisposition but no known environmental correlation. A genetic predisposition means you may be at higher risk for a certain cancer if a family member has that type of cancer.
Types of Screening Available
There are different types of screening tests available to detect many types of cancer. Some are more invasive than others. A few examples of screening tests that have shown to reduce cancer deaths include:
Diagnostic imaging; CT scans or mammography
Low-dose helical computed tomography (lung cancer screening)
Pap and HPV testing
Screening is designed to specifically screen for certain types of cancer for which your age, sex and lifestyle may put you at a higher risk to develop. Women at a high risk of developing breast cancer may be advised need to undergo frequent mammograms. Patients identified at a high risk for colon cancer will need to undergo colonoscopies.
Technology has allowed us to identify relationships between specific genetic mutations and some cancers. Hence, another type of screening test, predictive genetic testing is now available. We are continually learning more about genetic mutations and as we do so, the role of genetic testing will continue to grow. Currently, predictive genetic testing is helps determine if an individual has a genetic mutation that may predispose them to developing cancer. This test will reveal a genetic mutation, but does not guarantee a person will develop cancer, nor does absence of a mutation guarantee they will not. These tests only offer further insight into a person’s genetic risk for cancer.
Cancer Prevention 101
You may be wondering what steps you can take to decrease the risk for cancer from affecting you. While there are no guarantees, (wouldn’t it be awesome if life came with just a few?) you can control your environment, lifestyle, diet and amount of activity. Sticking to a life full of more healthy decisions than not is a good place to start. Here’s a quick cancer-friendly lifestyle checklist.
1. Clean eating. Step away from the corndogs and fried Twinkies. (Okay, maybe just at the fair…) Try a diet full of garlic, beets, green tea, avocados, red grapes, dark green leafy greens and organic meat. Perhaps, not nearly as fun but so worth it.
2. Don’t smoke. Stop smoking. No smoking allowed.
3. Exercise. Hey guys – did you know how beneficial it is to keep your body moving and in good shape? You’re reading this as a member of PLF so you already know this. Yay you! This doesn’t mean you have to be a size 2 or have a 32” waist. Goodness, no! Just keep moving – away from cancer, hopefully!
In all seriousness, being active and strong does not make anyone immune from illness but it certainly helps when an unexpected battle has to begin. So yes, yay you!
4. Many experts suggest either a diet rich in Vitamin C or a quality supplement. Also, vitamin D – which is best found and absorbed by getting some natural sunlight. Five to ten minutes a day can do wonders for our bodies without harming our skin. African Americans need to work up to longer periods of time, a recommended 60 minutes per day, to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D. Many Americans unknowingly suffer from a vitamin D deficiency and would benefit from a quality supplement. As with anything, please discuss with your doctor before beginning a regime of supplements.
5. Sleep more and stress less. Give your body and mind time to repair the damage from each day. Unplug, forget about work and get some sleep. Easier said than done but more important than ever. Sleep tight.