It’s World Cancer Day, and it’s time to take stock of our progress in the fight against this deadly disease. While deaths from cancer in the US have dropped 33% since 1991, an estimated 10 million people worldwide still lost their lives to cancer in 2020. The good news is that early detection and treatment have helped many people beat cancer. The bad news is that new cases of cancer have been on the rise globally, and the average age of diagnosis is getting younger. So what can you do to protect yourself?
It all starts with prevention. Eating a healthy, plant-based diet, getting the recommended amount of exercise and sleep, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking and vaping are key to keeping cancer at bay. Protecting yourself from the sun and tanning beds is also critical, as ultraviolet rays can damage DNA in skin cells and are the prime risk factor for melanoma. And don’t forget to check your entire body once a year for any signs of cancer.
It’s also important to know your family’s health history. If cancer (or other conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or even migraines) runs in the family, you may have inherited a predisposition to develop that cancer, so it’s important to know the age and type of cancer that afflicted your relatives. That information can help your doctor develop a personalized plan for you.
Finally, don’t forget to get vaccinated. Two vaccinations protect against cervical and liver cancers, and others for cancers such as melanoma are in development. Hepatitis B is transmitted via blood and sexual fluids and can cause liver cancer and cirrhosis, so a series of three shots, starting at birth, is part of the US recommended childhood vaccines schedule. Unvaccinated adults should check with their doctor to see if they are eligible.
World Cancer Day is a reminder that we all need to take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this deadly disease. Prevention and early detection are key, so make sure you know your family’s health history, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and don’t forget to get vaccinated. With a little effort, we can all do our part to win the war against cancer.