The American Cancer Society recognizes February as National Cancer Prevention Month. In honor of this month, we are sharing three ways you and your family can help reduce your risk of cancer or detect cancer earlier.
Let's start with the simple question, what is cancer? According to Mayo Clinic, cancer is caused by changes (mutations) to the DNA within cells. These mutations can cause the cell to stop working as it should and may cause it to become cancerous. This brings us to the first way you can work to prevent or detect cancer, and that is to know your family history.
1. Know Your Family History
Macmillan Cancer Support reports that there are two cell DNA mutation types including: acquired and inherited. Acquired mutation means that the error takes place during your life and won't be passed to your children. This is the case for most cancers, also known as "sporadic cancers." Inherited mutations are something you are born with and can pass along to your children. John's Hopkin's Cancer Center names BRCA gene-related breast cancers and certain colon cancers as some well-known inherited/hereditary cancers.
It's important to note that having a known hereditary cancer run does not necessasrily mean you will inevitably develop this cancer. It simply means you are at higher risk than those without a family connection. Knowing your family history is one way you can better prepare yourself to be routinely checked for cancer.
2. Take Precautions
Even if you do not have a link to an inheritable cancer gene, there are many ways you can protect yourself. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that screening for cervical and colorectal cancers can help identify these diseases before they become cancer, and that treatment in the early stage works best. Certain vaccines can also reduce risk. For example, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can help prevent most cervical and some other cancers, whereas the hepatitis b vaccine can lower liver cancer risk.
Mammograms (breast screenings) and skin cancer screenings are other preventative actions you can take. In many cases, the need for these screenings depend on your personal history. For example, someone with fair skin, a higher number of moles, or a history of heavy sun exposure may have skin cancer screenings more regularly. Talk with your doctor about cancer precautions that make sense for you.
3. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
As with many diseases, you can protect your health by making smart lifestyle decisions. In fact, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, carrying excess weight has been linked to six different cancer types. Regular physical exercise (at least 30 minutes a day) as well as eating a healthy diet consisting of lean meat, fruits, vegetables and minimal processed ingredients are all ways to keep your weight and health in check. The CDC has also identified avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol use and protecting skin from the sun as other ways to prevent cancer.
Please keep in mind that these tips will not help you 100% reduce your risk of cancer.
Please consult your doctor with questions on your individual risk based on your health history, screenings to consider, and more.