Beat cancer before you have it — prevent it
Every year we see advancements and promising trends in diagnosing and treating cancer. Already this year, we learned that the death rate from cancer in the U.S. has declined steadily over the past 25 years — 27 percent from 1991 to 2016 — according to the reporting from the American Cancer Society, or ACS. It’s a hopeful development attributed largely to reductions in smoking, advances in early detection and treatment breakthroughs.
While we can’t control everything about our health, the World Health Organization reports that 30 to 50 percent of all cancers may be preventable. That means there are steps you can take to improve your overall health and beat cancer before you have it.
Be mindful of nutrition, diet and exercise. While cancer deaths overall are declining, obesity-related cancer deaths are on the rise, and Texas is leading the way.
According to the new ACS data, Texas has the highest rate of cancers due to excess body weight, and at least 1 of every 17 cancers in the U.S. is attributable to excess body weight. Managing your weight, eating a balanced diet and maintaining regular physical activity are all factors in protecting your body. A lifestyle that includes a well-balanced diet full of nutrients that lower the risk of disease is also important for overall well-being and critical to both preventing and fighting cancer.
Eliminate smoking and tobacco use. In its 2019 report, the ACS cites lung cancer as one of the top three cancers diagnosed in both men and women. Research consistently shows that smoking cessation is paramount to lung health, and smokers who quit are more likely to live a healthier and longer life, while greatly decreasing lung cancer risk.
Smoking-related deaths represent 80 percent of lung cancer mortalities. Options for reducing and eliminating tobacco use include nicotine replacements such as patches, gum, inhalers, sprays and lozenges, as well as resources and tips. Talk to your primary care physician about how to quit, or contact the Quitline, a hotline supported by the Texas Department of State Health Services, by calling 1-877-937-7848.
Limit alcohol consumption. While the link between smoking and cancer is common knowledge, patients are sometimes surprised to hear that limiting alcohol consumption also is a significant factor in preventing the disease.
Alcohol use is linked to mouth, throat, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast cancers. Alcohol affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, damages body tissue, raises levels of estrogen, which can lead to breast cancer, and contributes to weight gain. When combined with other factors, such as smoking, the risk of cancer from alcohol is significantly higher. To decrease this risk, men should limit intake to two drinks per day and women to one drink a day.
As a society, we’re making huge strides in the fight against cancer, but there is much work to be done. While the medical community continues to focus on diagnosis and treatment, you can do your part — one small step at a time — by taking charge of your own prevention strategy.
It’s about making progress, not perfection, and I am encouraged by the recent statistics that show how far we’ve come in reducing cancer-related deaths. Across the Texas Oncology network, we’re proud to celebrate these victories.
John Renshaw, M.D., is a medical oncologist and hematologist at Texas Oncology-San Antonio Medical Center. For more information, visit TexasOncology.com.