Cancer research and improved technology may be changing the landscape of cancer care, but one’s greatest hope for reducing their risk of developing the disease or dying from it ultimately lies in their own hands, according to leading health care organizations.
Lifestyle changes and diligent cancer screening remain the best ways to reduce one’s risk of developing cancer in their lifetime. Research has shown that only five to 10 percent of cancers are hereditary, or developed from abnormal genes passed down from generation to generation, the American Cancer Society said. That means at least 90 percent of cancers are caused by other factors including lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and smoking, said Marcus Washington, MD, at Premier Health Family Medicine in Mason.
“Not all cancers can be prevented, but certainly one can drastically reduce their risk of developing the disease by the choices they make every day,” Dr. Washington said. “Studies have proven this over the years reinforcing the fact that how we live today greatly affects how we feel tomorrow.”
One of the most recent studies to support cancer prevention was released this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the study, the CDC found that more than 20 percent of cancer deaths could have been prevented through proper prevention. Some of the top preventable cancers include colorectal, cervical, lung, skin, breast, prostate, oral and testicular, the Cancer Prevention Foundation said.
“The way in which preventative screenings are helping to reduce the rate of certain cancer is remarkable,” Dr. Washington said. “For instance, colorectal cancer may be prevented in some cases by having a colonoscopy at age 50. If a polyp is found it can be removed before it ever has a chance to develop into cancer. Regularly performed, screening pap smears with HPV testing have also transformed the way we prevent and help women beat cervical cancer.”
Dr. Washington said regular screenings are vitally important in helping individuals reduce their risk for cancer and can become even more effective when done alongside healthy lifestyle habits. Leading cancer prevention organizations, including the American Institute for Cancer Research, provides recommendations for cancer prevention:
• Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
• Be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day and limit sedentary habits.
• Avoid sugary drinks and limit consumption of energy-dense foods – foods that are high in calories, but do not provide the body with important vitamins or nutrients.
• Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes — such as beans.
• Limit consumption of red and processed meats.
• Limit alcoholic drinks to two per day for men and one per day for women.
• Exclusively breastfeed babies for the first six months of their life.
• Limit consumption of salty foods.
• Do not take supplements for the purpose of cancer prevention.
• Stop smoking.
Perhaps most importantly, organizations encourage cancer survivors not to become discouraged.
“If you have already had cancer, don’t throw in the towel,” Dr. Washington said. “It’s never too late to begin living a healthy lifestyle. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing a lung cancer survivor who is still struggling to quit smoking. Some lifestyle habits can be hard to kick, but there are forms of support that can help someone do it.”
ABOUT PREMIER HEALTHNET: Premier HealthNet is part of Premier Health, which includes Miami Valley Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital Dayton, Atrium Medical Center and Upper Valley Medical Center. For more information, visit www.premierhealthnet.com/news.
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