By RENEE FITE
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, making prevention an important aspect of research and lifestyle choices.
Healthy diet and exercise are steps to keep health risks at a minimum, as are avoiding exposure to sun, chemicals and smoking. Regular checkups, including mammograms and other screenings, are also vital in prevention. Early treatment is usually effective, giving people cancer-free second chances.
A healthy immune system is an important defense in preventing and reducing the risk of cancer and a positive attitude can make a difference.
Heather Winn, OSU Extension educator, said there are many unknown factors in cancer, but knowing your family health history is a good place to start.
Wise food choices can help you lower cancer risks and maintain a healthy weight, along with being physically active every day.
“Some guidelines to help lower cancer risk emphasize consuming ample fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood and low-fat dairy foods. Choose foods with less fat. When consuming fats, choose polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and oils over saturated and transfats, and choose foods with less added salt and sodium,” Winn said. “Also use alcohol in moderation and abstain from smoking.”
Some cancers may have an inherited genetic factor, Winn said, and some environmental factors may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as excess radiation and sunlight, water and air pollution. Lifestyle choices like smoking and lack of physical activity may have a direct role in the development of certain types of cancer.
“Nutrition for older adults and lack of physical activity may also increase the risk for obesity, which is a risk factor for certain types of cancer,” Winn said. “Fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes contain certain compounds that may help lower the risk of cancer, and Omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood may lower risk.”
Survival rates are improving and people are finding themselves cancer-free again and looking to keep healthy.
It is possible to get excellent care close to home, said Vicki C. Baker, M.D., medical oncologist in private practice since 1990.
“In my training years, I realized that at the end of the day of my oncology rotations, I really felt like I was making a difference in people’s lives and they appreciated it,” Baker said. “I get to tell people that they are cancer-free, or their cancer is going away on a regular, even daily basis. Many cancers in advanced stages used to be universally rapidly fatal. Now many are chronic illnesses that are managed for years and years.”
Being diagnosed with cancer is very frightening, but patients shouldn’t be afraid to learn all they can with a doctor’s help, she said.
“Most people, including physicians who are not oncologists, have misconceptions about the choices for treatments and the effectiveness of treatment. So many patients are pleasantly surprised by the assessment and the improved outcomes that are possible,” Baker said.
The most common cancers are lung, breast, prostate and colon cancer, she said.
“Lifestyle and behavior factors result in high rates of smoking-related cancers in Oklahoma. Access to screening for colon and breast cancer needs to be improved as well,” she said. ”We have made great strides in treating and curing lymphomas, myeloma and some types of leukemia. Advanced colon, breast and ovarian cancer patients are living long lives with treatment.”
Side effect management is improving, took Baker said.
“We can control most nausea and vomiting, limit risks of infections, and know more about long-term effects of treatment as people are surviving longer. Many treatments are available in oral form, which improves many aspects of taking treatments,” Baker said.
After treatment many people choose different lifestyle choices, but it is amazing how many people go back to smoking after they go through so much together to result in a cure, she said.
“The best prevention for cancer is the same as prevention for heart disease: healthy eating, exercise, avoiding tobacco and attention to recommended screenings,” said Baker. ”Smoking is the most obvious. Obesity is a significant risk factor for many cancers as well. It also contributes to difficulties in diagnosing cancer at earlier stages.”
There is not really much in the way of science to state that a positive attitude improves the chance to survive cancer, but Baker believes that.
“I can say with 23 years of experience that facing the challenge with the support of friends and family, hope and optimism will make the experience better overall,” Baker said. “Most people are able to look at their lives differently and are changed for the better after this experience.”