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.