Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate that up to 75% of American cancer deaths can be prevented.
For 2022, My New Year’s resolution is to have the best health I can. Top on my list of things I can do are those that prevent cancer. Cancer is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for those of us who are younger than 65. But I can choose many optional things to prevent cancer, that research shows lower the risks. I lost both my parents to cancer, and I work in cancer prevention at the NYC Health Department, so it is something I think about a lot. My mother died of breast cancer when she was 57, and my father died of lung cancer when he was 77. What can I do to avoid the same fates?
Here is a list of 10 Ways to Prevent Cancer that I worked on writing at the Health Department that’s now available online. For the New Year, I’m going through them to see which things I can do differently in 2022.
- If you smoke, try to quit.
- Eat fewer processed meats.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Drink less alcohol.
- Increase your physical activity.
- Try to maintain your weight.
- Protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
- Get vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV).
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis B (HBV).
- Get screened for cancers.
I could do better with #3, 4, 5, 7, and 10. So these are great to start with for the New Year.
I sometimes imagine I won’t get breast cancer like my mother did because I didn’t take hormone replacement therapy, which was her risk factor. And I usually think I won’t get lung cancer because I didn’t smoke like my father, which was his risk factor. But so many other things factor into whether I will get cancer. Looking at the list, I know I could eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. I am mostly vegan, but not completely and so that is a new goal. When it comes to drinking, I enjoy a pint of beer once a week or so, which I could cut out with a healthy alternative. I didn’t pick one yet, but I’m working on it. Any amount of drinking increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
Increasing physical activity is something I definitely can do. I will make more time for my long walks and my free yoga with Adriene in the New Year. And while I am at it, I could also protect my skin from the sun, which I don’t do, thinking I need the vitamin D. But two of my friends had skin cancers removed from their faces in the last year, so I shouldn’t imagine that risk isn’t real.
The final tip, to get screened for cancers is something we all need to remember. To get vaccinated for HPV if you are a young adult, and HBV at any age if you haven’t can cut the risk of cervical and liver cancers. Get screened for breast cancer at 40 if you are a woman, colon cancer at 45, lung cancer at 50 if you smoked a lot, and prostate cancer at 55 if you are a man – these things don’t take long to do and can be life-saving proactive steps for good health.
My mother’s cancer was found when it already had metastasized from her breast to her liver, and she passed away only a few short months after her diagnosis. My father’s cancer was found when it had already metastasized from his lungs to his bones, and he passed away only 2 months after his diagnosis. What a difference early screening could have meant for them and for our family. It would have meant more successful treatment and longer survival.
And prevention goes even farther than screening, by lowering your risk of any cancer getting started in the first place.
So for the New Year 2022 I wish you your best health. Let’s prevent cancer any way we can.