According to recent studies, it’s believed that up to 1/3 of cancers can be prevented through specific actions and lifestyle modifications. February is National Cancer Prevention Month, so this is the first of two articles on cancer prevention.
The article below is about the four specific cancers that are known to be at least partially preventable through specific actions. (In the follow up article, my colleague Dr. Devi Kodali will discuss lifestyle modifications that are believed to reduce the risk for cancer overall.)
Every day in my practice, I see cancer patients of all ages, in various stages of treatment. Many cancers cannot be prevented—they just happen. The same studies [that say that up to 1/3 of cancers may be preventable] also say that many cancers are simply a case of genetics and/or “bad luck.”
For example, we know lung cancer incidence could be significantly reduced by eliminating tobacco from our society. But there are many other cancers that don’t seem to have as much of a lifestyle/risk-factor association. They’re simply a result of genetics, or as we said earlier, “bad luck.” Pancreatic cancer is an excellent example.
Let's look at four cancers that are considered to be most preventable.
Lung cancer is the number cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and the world. Nearly 90% of lung cancers could be prevented if people were no longer exposed to tobacco smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor in many other cancers as well, such as bladder, esophageal and head and neck cancers. Smoking also reduces overall survivorship of cancer, as those who smoke tend not to live as long, regardless of treatment.
Colon cancer risk can be reduced through several lifestyle factors. Additionally, colon cancer screenings (colonoscopy) are the only screening that actually prevents the incidence of colon cancer. This is because polyps, which are potentially cancerous or pre-cancerous, are removed from the colon during the screening.
Melanoma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, and it’s the leading cause of cancer death in young people ages 20-35. I find this type of cancer particularly saddening, because it often happens years after a tanning bed habit. Young parents are literally losing their lives because of the tans they got as teenagers.
The use of tanning beds is a major risk factor for all forms of skin cancer, as is not using proper skin protection (sunscreen and sun avoidance in early life). Severe sunburns, such as those that happen on vacation, can be most dangerous because they are a sudden, severe change to the skin.
Finally, many cases of cervical cancer may be prevented with the use of the HPV vaccine. HPV (human papilloma virus) is a sexually-transmitted infection that is commonly known as genital warts. Young people are being encouraged to be vaccinated prior to becoming sexually active. Anyone under the age of 26 should talk with their doctor about the HPV vaccine.
Learn more about cancer prevention, as my colleague Dr. Devi Kodali discusses lifestyle modifications to help reduce the overall risk for cancer.
Learn more about Deaconess Cancer Services here.