October is the month for breast cancer awareness, and there’s been some encouraging news. Although the month began with some critics arguing that the pink ribbon campaign has created a false sense of security that the breast cancer battle is under control – that pink ribbon ubiquity has actually hindered research and progress – a couple of recent studies are encouraging. The Big Pharma disaster, aka HRT (hormone replacement therapy), inflated breast cancer cases. As doctors are now more cautious about recommending and prescribing this course of treatment for women, breast cancer rates have dropped.
But it’s not just breast cancer. Encouragingly, across the board, we’re seeing slight but meaningful drops in some types of cancer, particularly in at-risk groups. A few standouts: lung cancer has dropped a bit in women (women are more at risk to begin with). Colorectal cancers are down in men, largely due to better screening practices.
Nevertheless, cancer is still one of our biggest killers. With sensible lifestyle practices, you can dramatically reduce your risk. I hope it goes without saying that we should avoid smoking, excess drinking, and junk food, but screenings are also a critical factor in taking responsibility for your health. Be proactive.
Here’s a helpful starter guide to screening recommendations for several of our most common cancers. (This is in addition to following a healthy lifestyle. For lung cancer, the absolute best tip is to simply avoid smoke, or quit smoking if you do currently. Here’s a beginning resource to quit smoking.)
Also, I’d like to open up the discussion to you: what are your habits and tips for preventing cancer?
Starting in her 20s, a woman should get clinical breast exams at least every 3 years. Annual mammograms should start at 40. Self-exams should be performed monthly, but make sure to do it properly.
Colon and Rectal Cancer
Starting at 50, get a test annually (fecal occult – FOBT- or fecal immunochemical – FIT). Colonoscopies should begin at 50 and continue every 10 years thereafter. Though colon cancer is often thought of as a men’s health issue, it’s equally important for women to get screened. I know you’re going to add in your tips below, but I can’t resist adding in a small note here: avoid processed meats!
If caught early, your chances are really good. So get screened! Couple of ways to go: PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test, or the digital rectal screening (DRS). Based on your lifestyle and family history, your doc will decide with you, but you should do an initial screening at 40 or 45 at the latest. Beginning at 50, you should get both annually.
The old standard used to be an annual test. Now, doctors say once every three years is fine for women who are either with one partner or are not sexually active and whose last test was clear. I tend to recommend going the extra-cautious route for everyone, but this is something to decide with your doctor.
Further Reading: The 7 Habits of Thin (Healthy) People
Vintage Bees: Cancer News