September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The aim of these health month designations is to educate and bring awareness to diseases and the treatment of disease. According to the American Cancer Society, a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100. And for men, the American Cancer Society states that about 1 man in 7 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and about 1 man in 39 will die of prostate cancer. Both of these cancers are more likely to develop in older women and men. You can go here and here to learn more about symptoms, risk, treatments, etc.
We all know how fast things change, and cancer care is changing too. The big “C” is less frequently a terminal illness than it was years ago. Yet, the worry that a possible or actual cancer diagnosis causes remains. I remember how scared I was when the mammography center called me once to say they needed me to come back for another, more thorough screening due to unclear “spots.” Yikes! Thankfully it was nothing. And many of us know the sinking feeling when told a family member or a friend gets a cancer diagnosis. While cancer is not a good or simple thing to face, the good news is that treatments are much more successful and may not be as awful as once upon a time, and hopefully will see even more progress soon. Because of the public’s complaints about how debilitating older treatments were, almost worse than the cancer itself, medical personnel and researchers have begun to focus on making cancer a manageable disease – looking at less aggressive treatment and paying more attention to the fears and concerns of the patient. The focus is moving more toward prevention, early diagnosis, and patient experience during and after treatment. While still scary, cancer does not need to be the scariest of diagnoses anymore.
Of course we all know there are certain risky behaviors that increase a person’s chances of getting cancer in their lifetime: smoking, years of breathing industrial dust without a mask, overexposure to the sun, etc. But it is also believed that nearly everyone has or will have some malignant cells in their body, and why some people develop cancer and some do not is unknown to date, outside of obvious factors. For instance, a smoker is more likely to develop lung cancer than his non-smoking sibling, but we’ve all heard of people who developed lung cancer with no obvious cause. So what can one do to lessen the risk? Aside from the obvious like not smoking, minimizing sun exposure, using protective gear at work or around chemicals, did you know that excess stress and a poor diet can also contribute to cancer risk?
Stress is a normal part of living and usually not a concern, but sometimes it gets too unmanageable and becomes a constant and unwelcome companion. People often deal with this by smoking a lot, drinking too much alcohol, or overeating. These behaviors all may increase one’s chances of developing cancer. Chronic stress is also harmful to overall health which may leave one vulnerable to growth of malignant cells. So it is important to deal with increasing stress in healthful ways. Look for ways to reduce stressful obligations, avoid stress-inducing situations, and/or delegate tasks that are overloading you. In addition, seek ways to get a handle on your stress about things you cannot change. Learn how to meditate, learn some calming yoga poses, spend time in contemplative prayer, or set aside time for a solo walk. Do this daily! Find 30 minutes in your day to do one or more of these practices. If necessary, get professional help in dealing with stress and anxiety that you cannot manage. Help your body by relieving it of some of the burden too much stress puts on it.
Doctors are more and more convinced of inflammation’s role in increasing cancer risk, as well as the risk of other serious ailments like heart disease and dementia. Stress, sedentary lifestyles, and poor diet contribute to chronic inflammation. I already mentioned reducing stress, and have many times recommended regular activity/movement/exercise. A healthful way of eating reduces the chances of chronic inflammation and will help eliminate inflammation that already exists. Also, a healthful way of eating helps with weight control. Obesity increases the risk of certain cancers. What does anti-inflammatory, healthful eating look like? It looks like lots of vegetables and fruits; whole grains (not ground into flour); beans and legumes; fats such as from nuts and avocados; small amounts of high-quality animal protein if desired; and limited amounts of natural sugars (honey or pure maple syrup, for instance). Omit highly processed foods, fried food, sweetened beverages, and so forth. Common sense eating really. This is not a fad diet meant to be followed for a few weeks or months. This is a lifestyle way of eating.
You are your own best defense against needing cancer treatment. Pay attention to your body and what it tells you. You will be the first to notice changes that warrant investigation. Take care of your body by feeding it well, getting regular exercise, avoiding known dangers, and maintaining calm and positive outlook, filled with gratitude for the gifts you have. And we all have gifts!