February is National Cancer Prevention Awareness Month: Here’s What You Should Know
By Jane Meggitt
There is plenty to celebrate in February. Valentine’s Day, President’s Day and even Groundhog Day take place this month, but for health purposes, arguably nothing is more important than National Cancer Prevention Awareness Month. Learn how to lower your risk of developing this dreaded disease.
National Cancer Prevention Awareness Month
According to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), one-quarter of all new cancer cases in the United States and almost half of all cancer deaths may have been preventable. While many types of cancer have their own months for specific awareness, such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, February’s National Cancer Prevention Awareness Month aims to educate people about ways to take action to reduce all forms of the disease.
Not every type of cancer is preventable, but when caught early, many cancers are curable. That is why regular cancer screening is necessary. For instance, the AACR notes that 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths in the U.S. are avoidable if everyone followed screening recommendations. Women should undergo regular cervical and breast cancer screening. Smokers and other high-risk individuals should ask their doctors about lung cancer screening.
In fact, vaccines are available to prevent certain cancers. That includes a vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the major cause of cervical cancer and contributes to cancers of the anus, penis, vagina and vulva. A hepatitis B vaccination protects against this serious liver infection. A chronic hepatitis B infection can cause liver cancer.
Know cancer risks factors and take steps to avoid them. Cancer risk factors include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Lack of exercise
- Poor diet
- Tobacco use – including smoking, chewing and vaping
A family history of cancer is a strong risk factor, but that does not mean it is inevitable. Discuss your family cancer history with your doctor and consider undergoing genetic testing. Such tests can help predict your risk level for a particular cancer. Currently, genetic testing is available for the following types of cancer:
Stay Out of the Sun
The sun can cause serious damage to the skin. Every year, 5.4 million cases of skin cancers not including melanoma are diagnosed in the U.S. – more than all other types of cancer combined. Many skin cancers, including potentially deadly melanoma, are preventable by following sun safety guidelines. The first rule of skin cancer prevention? No sunbathing.
Avoid going out in the heat of the day in warm weather. Lather on sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more, and reapply after swimming or exercise. Even when it is overcast, put on ample sunscreen. Do not use tanning beds in lieu of direct sunbathing. When outdoors, wear sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved cotton shirts or clothing designed for sun protection.
Check your skin regularly. If you notice any change in moles, including shape, size or color, make an appointment with your dermatologist as soon as possible.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle can cut your cancer risk and may prevent other serious diseases, including heart attack and stroke. Ask your doctor about the right diet and exercise program for your needs.
Consume more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while staying away from red meat and processed or sugary foods. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. This may include walking and aerobic exercise such as swimming or cycling. Physical activity can lower the odds of developing colon or breast cancer.
Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum, or do not drink at all. Women should not drink more than one alcoholic beverage daily and men should not consume more than two. Drinking raises the risks of developing certain cancers, including those of the mouth and larynx, breast, colon, esophagus and liver.
If you use tobacco, you already know it can lead to various types of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. There is no safe form of tobacco use. If you are having trouble quitting, speak to your doctor. Not everyone can quit on their own. Your doctor can recommend methods to help, ranging from nicotine replacement therapy to counseling. You can do it!
At Yosemite Pathology and Precision Pathology, we offer pathology services for all types of cancer. For more than 70 years, we have worked with physicians and hospitals to improve the care of cancer patients and others by providing comprehensive and superior diagnostics. We now encompass more than 20 board-certified anatomic pathologists. For more information about our services, contact us today.
Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications, including USA Today, Zack’s, Financial Advisor, nj.com, The Houston Chronicle and The Nest. She is a graduate of New York University.