World Health Day, April 7th, is a great opportunity to focus our attention on what should be an American priority: cancer prevention.
Scientific evidence tells us that over 50 percent of all cancers are preventable by applying what we know right now. Attention to diet, exercise, avoiding alcohol, protecting our skin from the sun, managing stress and, of course, ending smoking all contribute to significantly reduce cancer risk. These are the “broad strokes” of cancer prevention. The devil is in the details, and people need to know which foods, what kind of exercise, how to manage stress, etc. There are highly-effective strategies to prevent cancer, but we need to learn them. We should be teaching our children about the kinds of foods that reduce cancer risk and encouraging them to stay physically active to prevent cancer and other diseases. Anti-smoking education should focus on the young as well as adults, emphasizing that “It’s not cool to smoke, because there’s nothing cool about cancer.”
Learning that whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables can help prevent many cancers, including cancers of the prostate, breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, lung, colon, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gallbladder, and probably other cancer types is a powerful lesson that can have a significant impact on children’s lives. In many cases, children who have been taught about cancer-preventing strategies can become the role models and teachers for their parents.
Our fruits, vegetables and grains should be free of harmful pesticides that promote cancer. Our cattle, poultry and fish should not be exposed to antibiotics or hormones that will be harmful to their human consumers. Our personal care products, such as shampoo and deodorant and toothpaste; cosmetics, such as lipstick, mascara and eyeliner; and our household cleaning products should be free of chemicals that disrupt our hormones, and increase our cancer risk.
The scientific and medical community, including the World Health Organization and the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Reproductive Society, are speaking out against the harmful chemicals in our environment.
In a joint Committee Opinion issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in September 2013, obstetricians and gynecologists were urged to advocate for government policy changes to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents.
Among the reproductive and health problems associated with exposure to these toxic chemicals, these powerful medical groups listed childhood cancers, miscarriage and stillbirth impaired fetal growth and low birth weight, preterm birth, birth defects, cognitive/intellectual impairment and thyroid problems.
In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel issued a scathing report entitled, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” in which it stated: “The true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.”
It takes a village to support cancer prevention. Government and the industries producing our food, personal care products and cosmetics, household and industrial cleaning products, fertilizers and pesticides should be partners in the effort to ensure that our food is pure and healthful, and that the products used on our bodies and our farms, in our homes, schools and businesses aren’t cancer-causing. Less Cancer, a not-for-profit organization founded by Bill Couzens, seeks to educate individuals and raise awareness that results in the protection of human health, the environment, and our economy. Less Cancer’s work on health and the environment spans a wide range of issues, including specific contaminants, pollution sources and also healthy lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, and smoking cessation. While we work to protect all communities, our approach is particularly relevant to at-risk populations, such as children, low-income communities, and workers. Less Cancer’s ultimate goal is to reduce incidences of diagnosed cancer in all people. As a Less Cancer board member, I am honored to be a part of this vital mission.
A World Without Cancer, the book I wrote in 2012, is my personal journey with cancer as a doctor, a diagnostic radiologist and experiencing cancer’s horrific effects on my patients, friends, and family. The good news is that cancer is not an inevitability for us. Whether we are adults or children, members of the media or medical community, government, industry or cancer advocacy group, we can all contribute to a healthier environment, a stronger, more vibrant society, and ultimately, to a world without cancer. If we fully dedicate ourselves to the prevention of cancer, this impossible dream will become a reality.
Margaret I. Cuomo, M.D., is a board-certified radiologist and served as an attending physician in diagnostic radiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. for many years. Specializing in body imaging, involving CT, Ultrasound, MRI and interventional procedures, much of her practice was dedicated to the diagnosis of cancer and AIDS. She is the daughter of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and Mrs. Matilda Cuomo and sister to Governor Andrew Cuomo and ABC’s Chris Cuomo. She resides in New York. Cuomo’s book, A World Without Cancer, was published October 2012 by Rodale.
Everyday Ways to Prevent Cancer
By Leslie Vandever
February is National and World Cancer Month—observations meant to increase public awareness of cancer, cancer prevention, and cancer research. And Tuesday, Feb. 4 is National Cancer Prevention Day.
Even today, with the incredible scientific and medical advances that have taken place over the last hundred years, cancer remains one of the most frightening—and deadly—diseases we face. Fortunately, we’ve gotten much better at treating and even curing some types of cancer, some of the time. Unfortunately, a definitive cure for all cancers remains beyond our reach.
What is cancer?
Simply, “cancer” is the word for a group of diseases in which the cells—the body’s basic unit of life—develop abnormally and do not die when they should because of a mutation in their DNA. Instead, out of control, these “malignant” cells divide and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymph system.
Sometimes mutated cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumor. It’s considered “benign” if it doesn’t spread to other parts of the body, can be removed, and doesn’t come back.
There are more than 100 different types of cancer. In many cases, what starts, or triggers, cells to mutate abnormally and spread is unknown. But scientists have been able to pinpoint some possible triggers for some forms of malignant cancer—and by avoiding or controlling those triggers, you can reduce your odds of contracting the disease.
What steps can you take toward cancer prevention?
- Don’t use tobacco. If you do, stop. Smoking has been linked to cancers of the lung, bladder and kidneys. Chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the oral cavity and pancreas.
- Eat healthy. Choose a diet rich in plant-based foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes and whole grains. Limit fat, particularly fat from animal sources. Avoid sugar. Foods that are higher in fat and sugar (and calories) contribute to obesity, which can cause cancer.
- Avoid becoming overweight or obese. Maintaining a healthy weight for your age, height and build might help to prevent cancer. Obesity has been linked to cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney.
- Exercise. Regular exercise helps to maintain overall health, helps to control your weight and might protect against breast and colon cancer.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Many types of skin cancer are linked to the harmful ultraviolet rays in the sun. Use sunscreen liberally and wear tightly woven, loose-fitting clothes in bright or dark colors to protect exposed skin. Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And avoid tanning beds and sunlamps—they’re just as damaging as natural sunlight.
- Cancer screening. Mammograms, PAP smears, breast and skin exams, and colorectal screening can catch precancerous conditions early. By finding abnormal cells and treating or removing them, some cancers can be prevented. They include cervical cancer, breast cancer and some skin cancers.
- Chemoprevention. The vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the hepatitis B vaccine can prevent certain types of cancer. There are also medications can treat some pre-cancerous conditions and keep them from developing into a malignant form.
Other steps you can take include limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and avoiding risky behavior. HPV and HIV infections, which can make you more susceptible to liver, cervical and other cancers, can be prevented by never sharing needles and practicing safe sex: limiting the number of sexual partners you have, and using condoms. Finally, visit your doctor at least once a year for preventive screening and an overall health checkup.
For more information about cancer and other health issues, click here.
Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer. Under the pen-name “Wren,” she also writes a blog about living well with rheumatoid arthritis called RheumaBlog (www.rheumablog.wordpress.com). In her spare time, Vandever enjoys cooking, reading and working on the Great American Novel.
- What is Cancer? (2013, Feb. 8) National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on January 26, 2014 from http://www.cancer.gov/
- Cancer. (2012, September 3) PubMed Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved on Jan. 26, 2014 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002267/
- Cancer Prevention and Control. (2013, May 7) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on January 26, 2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/
- Cancer Prevention: 7 Tips to Reduce Your Risk. (2012, December 12) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on January 26, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/cancer-prevention/art-20044816?pg=1
In honor of National Cancer Prevention Day, please consider making a donation to the T.J. Martell Foundation by clicking here. The Foundation funds cutting-edge research that will lead to clinical trials and drug discoveries that will help save lives!
Guest Blog Post from 15-40 Connection
In the realm of cancer research, preventative measures like early detection are coming into the spotlight lately. After Angelina Jolie’s high-profile case, more people are aware that genetic testing even exists. It’s a hot topic on everyone’s mind. Early detection can mean increased chances of survival, but it also likely means fewer rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiation. Especially if the cancer is caught early enough so that it has not spread, it drastically decreases the complexity of treatment and the painful side effects.
So, why isn’t it working for everyone? Rates of survival in the 15-40 year old age group have not increased since 1975. Rates of survival of pediatric cancer have improved, as well as cancer found in those over 40, so why are young adults left out?
There isn’t an easy answer. This age group is particularly hard to diagnose, because screenings like colonoscopies and mammograms aren’t usually required until later in life. While many are aware that early detection works, far fewer know what to look for or how to look. Even when they are aware, the environmental factors mean that this age group often overlooks their own health problems.
15-40 year olds are chronically busy. This age group encompasses high school-ers, college students, young professionals, and young parents. There are a lot of transitions and a lot of new adjustments, and taking care of your health can take a back seat. When making an annual physical appointment is competing with your children, your schoolwork or your full-time job, it’s very easy to leave at the bottom of the list.
With all these responsibilities, 15-40 year olds are less likely to put themselves and their health needs first, and more likely to ignore persistent health problems, or write them off as due to stress or “just getting older.”
The busy schedule paired with a feeling of invincibility is particularly dangerous. Feeling invincible, and that ‘cancer doesn’t happen to someone my age,’ can be self-perceived, but it can also be inferred by the doctors. Doctors are less likely to expect that a persistent health problem could be due to cancer, and frequently treat symptoms individually without discovering the real cause: cancer.
To make use of the power of early detection, we need to empower 15-40 year olds to take control of and responsibility for their health. Here are a few resources:
Stress the importance of self-exams and teach how to do them:
Teach 15-40 year-olds how to advocate for their health:
If we harness the power of early detection, the 15-40 year old age group can see similar improvements in cancer survival rates as the pediatric and adult cancers. We can change this. See www.15-40.org for more information.
I would like to extend a warm thank you to Laura Heatherly of the T.J. Martell Foundation for asking me to conduct a skin cancer awareness program at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester,Tennessee.
As a primary care physician, I truly enjoy reaching out to the community to educate the public on the importance of cancer prevention and early detection. We had an enthusiastic audience that spanned many age groups who were interested in learning how to protect themselves from the dangers of the sun and how to check themselves for early signs of skin cancer.
On behalf of he board of directors of the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund, we appreciate our collaboration with the T.J. Martell Foundation and plan to be present at many more outdoor music festivals to spread the word about skin cancer prevention.
Cancer prevention and early detection saves lives!
Check Yourself for Cancer Today!
Sandeep Kapoor, MD
The Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund
Dr. Margaret Cuomo is the author of “A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention;” she is a board-certified radiologist who served as an attending physician in diagnostic radiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. for many years. She was the keynote speaker at the T.J. Martell Foundation’s inaugural Women of Influence Awards at Riverpark in New York City.
We are honored to share her perspective here on Angelina Jolie’s courageous decision regarding the discovery of her BRCA1 genetic mutation and subsequent bilateral (aka “double”) mastectomy, as well as the implications for the cancer community.
Angelina Jolie has my admiration for her courage in publicly describing her decision to undergo a bilateral (aka “double”) mastectomy. Her BRCA1 genetic mutation significantly increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
According to Jolie’s New York Times op-ed piece, her doctors estimated that she has an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. Women who have inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations account for 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers and 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers (for white women) in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Knowing that her own mother died at the age of 56 following her battle with cancer, Angelina Jolie, the mother of six children, decided to be pro-active, and decided to sharply reduce her risk of breast cancer by undergoing the mastectomy.
The question that I hope many women are asking is: “Is this the best that we can do in the 21st century?” After 41 years and more than 90 billion dollars spent since the War on Cancer was declared, we should expect more effective and less invasive solutions to reducing breast cancer, and all cancers.
Are the National Cancer Institute and the pharmaceutical industry committing enough of their intellectual and financial resources to the discovery of safe, new ways of detecting breast cancer and ovarian cancer in their earliest stages? If a patient has a BRCA1 or BRACA2 mutation, are there techniques available to “turn-off” the faulty genes?
Is there a sense of urgency about finding new tests to detect breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and other cancers, that do not involve radiation – a known carcinogen?
The prevention of cancer should be our ultimate goal and it should have the full benefit of the National Cancer Institute’s and industry’s vast resources.
Our children are our future, and we should expect that their generation will prevent cancer without the traumatic solution that Angelina Jolie felt obliged to accept.
This week the T.J. Martell Foundation launched the Women of Influence Awards at Riverpark in New York. The Foundation honored five incredible women from various business backgrounds: Marcie Allen, President of MAC Presents; Joann Camuti, Director, Sales Promotions and Community Relations, with American Airlines; Dr. Margaret I Cuomo, Author of A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention; Liz Smith, famed Journalist, Columnist and Co-Founder of wowOwow.com; and Lori Stokes, ABC Eyewitness News Anchor. Jenna Wolfe of NBC’s Today Show was the Mistress of Ceremonies and Grammy-Nominated recording artist Elle Varner performed a special song called “So Fly” for the women in the audience.
The event brought men and women from around the country together to support the honorees, have a great time, but most importantly, to raise awareness and funds for women’s cancer research programs through the great work of Dr. James Holland, Distinguished Professor of Neoplastic Diseases of Mt. Sinai Medical Center, and Dr.Jimmie Holland, Wayne E. Chapman Chair in Psychiatric Oncology of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo who recently published “A World Without Cancer” gave remarks to the audience highlighting key tips for early detection and cancer prevention. Her address to the audience was heartfelt and made all of us feel strongly about taking better care of ourselves!
I have to say that as I reflect on the wonderful day at the T.J. Martell event, it made me realize that we ALL can be Women and Men of Influence. We are the best advocates for encouraging our family, friends and colleagues to take better care of themselves by exercising, eating healthier, limiting alcohol intake, getting rest, don’t smoke and getting yearly medical exams. It is the best medicine one can take to live a longer, healthier life.
At the T.J. Martell Foundation, we’re passionate about taking good care of ourselves and our loved ones. That’s why we’ve decided to create a new Board on Pinterest with motivational images to keep our friends Healthy & Happy. Pinterest is a very fun place to find inspiration. Be sure to follow us today! http://pinterest.com/