We all strive for a world where all people are free of cancer, but 10 million people still die from the disease every year. The good news is that new screening techniques combined with lifestyle choices can help prevent a third of common cancers and resulting deaths.
“There are really four cancers we focus on that we have effective screening tools for,” says Dr. Scott Joy, Chief Medical Officer for HealthONE Physician Services Group.
The top two are mammograms to test for breast cancer and colonoscopies to test for colon cancer. But many people are now taking advantage of a less invasive way of screening for colon cancer.
“We have some opportunities where people can get a kit mailed to their house that screens for early cancer in the colon as well,” Dr. Joy says. “So a lot of patients, particularly in the pandemic, that may have been reluctant to get a procedure in the last year or two, we’ve been using more of these at home tests.”
Another common cancer screening is for cervical cancer. Dr. Joy suggests regular Pap smears for women until they are at least 65. He also encourages patients to be tested for HPV every three to five years.
But he says the cancer screening that’s really under utilized is one for lung cancer.
“So it’s really important that if you have a smoking history, and really any smoking history of any kind, to talk to your primary care provider about that,” Dr Joy says. “Depending on how much you smoke and how many years you smoke and what your age is, you would be a candidate for a low dose CT scan of the chest. And that’s a very effective test to help us screen for early lung cancers.”
In addition to screenings, there are lifestyle choices you can make that can reduce your risk of cancer.
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for cancer, so eating healthy, losing weight, and quitting smoking are really mainstays for cancer prevention.
“Smoking is a huge underlying risk factor for cancers, lung cancers, colon cancers, oral cancers, esophageal cancer,” Dr. Joy says. “Quitting smoking is a great thing to do.”
High fiber diets and diets high in fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of colon cancer.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, about 20% of cancers diagnosed in the United States are related to poor nutrition and physical inactivity. The American Cancer Society Guidelines for Nutrition and Physical Activity encourage people of all ages to be active throughout each week and to consume vegetables, fruit and whole grains. The American Cancer Society has more information on being healthy and incorporating healthy habits into your routine on their website.
Cancer Support Community Resources:
- Cancer Screening and Detection Innovation: What It Could Mean for Patients
- CSC Executive Chair Joins First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to Focus on Screening and Navigation for Cancer Patients
Following recommended cancer screenings is another way to help detect cancer early, before it spreads. The American Cancer Society has guidelines for various cancer screenings based on age. It’s important to also know your family history and share that information with your physician.
Staying away from tobacco is another component to good health. Once someone quits tobacco, the effects can be noticeable right away. Heart rate and blood pressure drop 20 minutes after quitting. Circulation and lung function improve within two weeks to three months after quitting. Around one year after quitting, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half of that of someone who stills smokes. Quitting can be challenging and the American Cancer Society can help. For resources visit cancer.org or 1-800-227-2345.
Protection from the sun, no matter what the season, is also important. Most skin cancers are caused by increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. A lot of that exposure comes from the sun, which is why it’s important to protect your skin. Wearing sunscreen and protective clothing along with wearing a hat and sunglasses can help limit exposure. For more information visit the American Cancer Society’s Be Safe in Sun page.