New Year’s resolutions typically focus on health and wellbeing. But before you resolve to drink a wheatgrass smoothie every day or bench-press a Toyota, why not try some simple, realistic steps to help prevent cancer in yourself and your loved ones?
Top of the list for many of us as we greet 2017 is a host of healthy New Year’s resolutions. The rough year of 2016 is behind us, but with cancer on the increase (and treatment costs rising alongside), it makes sense to invest in prevention rather than cure if we are to weather the storms ahead.
According to the Australian Cancer Council, as many as one in three cancer cases are preventable. That means the power to remain healthy lies, at least to some extent, with you! But it’s no use trying adventurous pills and potions if you neglect the most obvious, reliable, tried-and-tested methods for taking care of your health, experts at the Independent Clinical Oncology Network (ICON) warn. Take a look at their top tips below.
- Stop smoking
You knew this one was coming! Smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths and 87% of lung cancer deaths; the risk of developing lung cancer is about 23 times higher in male smokers compared to non-smokers; and smoking is associated with increased risk of at least 15 types of cancer including cancer of the lung, larynx, mouth, oesophagus, throat, bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, colon, rectum, and cervix. Chewing tobacco (or betel nut) isn’t safe either.
Here’s the caveat: there is a misconception that cancer is your biggest worry if you are a smoker. Actually, compared to some of its other effects, cancer isn’t even smoking’s deadliest consequence. Smoking has a devastating effect on quality of life, causes vascular and/or coronary disease, and is strongly associated with various fatal lung conditions and other, lesser-known nasties that can either kill or severely injure you. Either way, the smoker’s path isn’t pretty, so you should stub out that (still aptly named) cancer stick today.
- Step away from the bar
We promise we’re not out to ruin all your fun. You can still have a few drinks now and then. But there is scientific evidence that alcohol is a carcinogen, so you probably don’t want to be treating it like mother’s milk. According to the US National Cancer Institute, “The research evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks – particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time – the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer.” So have your glass of bubbly to see in the New Year by all means, but keep it moderate.
- Keep your sunscreen topped up
It may be beach season, but don’t go out without sunscreen and don’t let your loved ones do it, either. According to dermatologist Dr Francesca Fusco, there has been an increase in the lifetime risk of developing invasive melanoma from 1 in 500 in 1935 to 1 in 55 today.
- Lose the festive package
Although the festive season brings party food in abundance, excess weight causes the body to produce and circulate more of the hormones oestrogen and insulin, which can stimulate cancer growth. Obesity has been linked to breast, colon and pancreatic cancer, so it’s worth getting back to the gym come January (okay, February…)
- Physician (and non-physician), know thyself
Regular self-examinations are essential to knowing when to go for a check-up. Do you know your moles, your birthmarks, your lumps and bumps? Would you know when something turned up that wasn’t meant to be there? If not, it’s time to get familiar.
Also, knowing your family cancer history is useful as there are certain cancers that are inherited. By finding out about your family’s medical history, you can make your general practitioner aware of cancers that your parents or siblings may have had. This can be useful in determining what regular cancer screening tests you would possibly benefit from.
- Go for regular check-ups
Many medical aids incentivise clients nowadays to invest in prevention rather than cure, so it’s likely that if you are on medical aid, you will be covered to go for regular check-ups and some cancer screening tests. Many medical aids reward you with discounted rates or even cash back if you achieve a certain status. State medical facilities also provide routine screenings for some cancers.
“It makes sense for the patient, the service provider and the funder to focus on preventing illness rather than curing it,” says Ernst Marais, Chief Operating Officer at ISIMO Health, an organisation that seeks to drive improved patient care in South Africa. Prevention, early detection and appropriate treatment are a key part of this.
“If you follow these steps and end up either preventing illness or catching it early enough to safeguard health in the long term, you will always be glad that you did.” Words to live by in 2017.
For more information on cancer treatment and prevention, visit www.icon.org.za