February 2024: Cancer Prevention Month

by | Jan 30, 2024 | Prevention

We have spent the last few months diving into Creating the Life of our Dreams as a family, as parents or just for ourselves. Now let’s explore what our Dream Life would look like if we could prevent illness. For some, it probably sounds like a pie in the sky idea, but I can tell you that it is not. In fact, we do know some strategies that can prevent cancer in you or your family. This is the best time to explore this idea as February is National Cancer Prevention Month!!

Do you know anyone who has ever had cancer? Maybe you have experienced cancer or a precancerous condition yourself. Maybe you have experienced a family member, dear friend, neighbor or classmate who has had cancer and gone through cancer treatments. It is never easy and comes with a host of emotions and challenges. Today, many of us know of someone who has had or is dealing with cancer and yet, wonder if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, 30-50% of cancers are PREVENTABLE! Absorb that fact for a minute….30-50% of all cancers are preventable! WOW! Even as a long term Clinical Oncology Nurse/ Nurse Practitioner, that was shocking for me to realize. So you may wonder, how can these cancers be prevented? Let’s take a look!

While there are over 200 different types of cancers, each with their own risk factors, the most common cancers have well known risk factors that can be avoided or mitigated. Let’s start with breast cancer which is the leading cause of cancer in women but can occur in some men. The best healthful steps to take are to keep your alcohol level to 6 or fewer drinks per week, with 3-4 alcoholic drinks per week if you have breast cancer in your family. Regular alcohol intake has been found to correlate with development of breast cancer. Additionally, it helps to keep your weight at a moderate level and eat a wholesome, clean diet with 20-30 minutes of some type of exercise per day. It has been found that teen girls who participate in team sports have lower rates of breast cancer over their lifetime whether that is from the aerobic exercise or possibly because it often is found that for athletes to perform better, they tend to eat better and have lower rates of obesity and overweight. A combination of the good, better, best health habits can make a significant difference.

The second leading cause of cancer in both men and women is Lung cancer and well know is that smoking is the most common risk. Those who never smoke, or quit smoking have lower rates however secondhand smoke or radiation in the form of radon in the home can contribute as well, which can be negated by installing a radon mitigation system in the home. But wonder if you have smoked, what can you do? The proven best thing you can do is to eat plenty of fresh green, and yellow vegetables, fruits and whole grains which have been found to reduce risk. I am not saying that you can continue to smoke as many cigarettes as you want, eat green and yellow vegetables, and be assured that will protect you from ever developing lung cancer. What I am sharing is that it can help lower your risk, especially if you eat several servings every day.

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in both men and women. It has been found that we can reduce or prevent risk by keeping our weight at a moderate level, eating a high fiber diet which helps to absorb and remove toxins in the gut through our stool and eat clean, having a greater intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and moderate levels of good quality fats like olive oil, avocado and walnuts and avoiding bad fats like processed deli meats, high fat meat, and saturated fat. For those who eat red meat, it is helpful to limit your intake of red meat to your palm-sized portion of red meat 4-5 times per month.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US as about 9500 are diagnosed with skin cancer in the US every day and 20% of all Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Let me share my own experience. This is a particularly significant time of the year to think about skin cancer prevention during our winter months when our skin is less exposed to the sun. Having grown up on Cape Cod and loving the ocean, I decided one winter to vacation in Acapulco. I felt like I was in my element and loving going to the beach in February. However, I was not familiar with the difference in the intensity of the sun in Central America compared to New England. I got a sunburn so bad I felt nauseous and could not tolerate the sun the next day. It was a wakeup call and I have never allowed myself to ever put myself at risk like that again. With that said, the greatest risk factors are intense exposure to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun especially for those with lighter skin but even those with dark skin such as African Americans or African heritage can get skin cancer or malignant melanoma like Jim Marley who died of melanoma. Children are especially vulnerable so keep their skin protected when they are babies, in the preschool years and during adolescence. The strategies for prevention at any age are to be very cautious during the peak intensity hours of 10:00-2:00pm, seek out the shade and adhere to the SLIP, SLAP, SLOP motto developed in Australia. SLIP on a shirt/ pants, SLAP on a broad-brimmed hat and UV protective sunglasses and SLOP on SPF 30 or greater sunscreen that protects against UVA as well as UVB sunrays. There are some wonderful stylish sunprotective clothing lines today that also block out the UVA and UVB radiation. Above all else, do yourself a favor and avoid tanning beds in any form!

So when you think about Good health for yourself, what do you envision? It is a good question to ask yourself this month! I hope that some of your vision includes finding your passion and doing what you love and Cancer Prevention can naturally be built into your habits of daily living. It can be simple, easy, low cost and fun!  May you enjoy this precious National Cancer Prevention Month with yourself, your family and, for some of you, your kids living the Good, Better, Best Life through W.E.L.L.N.E.S.S.