Cancer prevention month: reducing the risk of a life-threatening illness

Kyra Abbott ‘24, Student Life Editor

In the biographical film, Kiss and Cry, Carley Allison, who was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer at 17 years old, shared a sadly true statement in a letter she personified for cancer to act as the author. In the letter, Cancer said, “Dear Carley…[B]asically, I’m like a really needy friend. Except I’m not your friend. I don’t care about you or who you are. All I do is wait for the right conditions to try and exist…[L]ove, Cancer.”

Cancer is a diagnosis that no one ever wants to receive. Usually, cancer serves as an avoidable topic of discussion until someone is informed that they do have it. But it does not have to be that way. In fact, it should not be. Without proper awareness and prevention, cancer rates will only continue to increase. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) said, “Each year in the United States, more than 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer, and nearly 600,000 die from it, making it the second leading cause of death.” These exceedingly high statistics are likely due to the large population of people that may accept that cancer is a threat to the world’s population, but do not necessarily act to reduce the risk factors that make it more likely to develop cancer.

Some people may believe that cancer is not avoidable. And in some cases, that could be true, but not always. The World Health Organization said, “Between 30-50 percent of all cancer cases are preventable.” Likewise, there are several lifestyle modifications to implement in order to reduce the risk of potentially developing cancer. For instance, schedule regular doctor appointments and necessary cancer screenings. Time is crucial when it comes to diagnosing cancer because mostly all cancers are more manageable when caught in early stages. Regular medical evaluations could mean the difference between having little to no chance of survival or having a high chance of survival with proper treatment. 

This next modification goes hand in hand with the last one: stay up to date with vaccinations. The Council for Disability Awareness said, “About a third of liver cancers and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma are linked to Hepatitis B and C. A vaccine for Hepatitis B is widely available and highly recommended (Hepatitis C is generally curable with treatment). And the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is known to greatly reduce risks of cervical and several other cancers.” The risk for cancer can be reduced when getting immunized from certain viruses. Although not all cancers can be traced to certain viruses, some of the most commonly known ones can be caused by a lack of vaccination against common viruses such as Hepatitis B and HPV. 

In addition, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a variety of healthy foods can minimize risk of developing cancer and other illnesses. Now, this does not mean you have to go on a strict diet or begin a rigorous exercise plan. This only means that exercising for at least 30 minutes each day and including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and an adequate source of protein in each meal should become part of your daily routine. 

Another crucial habit to avoid is smoking and the use of tobacco products. An online medical guide from Mary Washington Healthcare (MWHC) said, “All forms of tobacco products have many chemicals that [can] damage DNA and cause cancer.” It is well known that it can be difficult to stop smoking, for it is a very addictive habit, yet this should not be an excuse; there are support groups available that may help with the transition into a healthier lifestyle. However, even being around smokers—second hand smoke—can increase one’s risk of developing certain types of cancer. This is why it is crucial to put in an effort to quit smoking; it can lower the risk of cancer for the smoker as well as the people with whom they live. 

One lifestyle factor that can prevent one common form of cancer is sun protection. Skin cancer is common, but can be easily prevented by doing the following: avoiding direct sun exposure between the time frame of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., using generous amounts of sunscreen, taking advantage of shaded areas while outside in the sun, and avoiding sunlamps and tanning booths. 

Along with lifestyle changes, knowing your family history is shown to be beneficial because up to 10 percent of cancers are inherited. MWHC said, “Understanding your family history can help guide your discussion with your physician of when you need to start cancer screening and whether to consider genetic counseling.” This preventative treatment allows individuals who are at an increased risk for developing cancer to be sure that their doctors are extra-aware of any questionable symptoms.

Cancer is a world issue, and lethal one at that. Therefore, take the above precautions to heart and try to implement them into your life. If it is overwhelming to implement them all at once, maybe try one every month until all of them are implemented. Even though not all types of cancers can be prevented, 30-50 percent of common cancers can be; individuals possess more control over their chances than they may believe. Nonetheless, humans are not invincible, but, often, cancer can be if it is diagnosed too late. Remember, it is important to not only be aware, but to also act with preventative measures. 

For further information from the CDC go to https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/index

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