“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.”
Last year, approximately 20 million people worldwide received a message like this from their doctor. They heard that one brutal sentence, which turns lives upside down, and leaves everyone associated with the patient asking why it happened to them.
Today, on World Cancer Day, we chose to write about this topic as both of us have been greatly impacted by friends suffering from cancer in recent months. We join with the scientists, healthcare professionals and advocates in the field who are working tirelessly to both find ways to prevent and cure this unforgiving disease.
According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is “a disease caused when cells divide uncontrollably and spread into surrounding tissues.” While there is no foolproof way to ensure our bodies will not develop cancer, there are ways we can adjust our behaviours to minimise the risk:
Exercise. There are many links between obesity and cancer, so it’s very important to maintain an ideal body weight. You can help yourself do that by staying active. Studies show that just 30 minutes of exercise, such as walking or riding a bicycle, five times per week is also effective in boosting the immune system, which lessens the likelihood of getting cancer.
Nutrition. While exercise is important, so is the quality of food we put into our bodies. It has been proven that processed foods like cured meats can maximise the risk of getting cancer, while eating healthy items like leafy green vegetables and whole grains may keep cancer further at bay.
Pesticides. When purchasing your foods, try to buy organic varieties to avoid consuming the harmful chemicals often used to treat crops.
Tobacco. Smoking and using chewing tobacco increase your chances of getting cancer, so if you have a habit of either, it’s best to quit as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary risk.
Drinks. Consuming alcohol and soft drinks, which are high in sugar (or carcinogens if they’re of the diet variety), is known to elevate the risk of getting cancer. Opt instead for water or tea for a healthy alternative.
Sun exposure. Skin cancer can result from excess time in the sun, so if your lifestyle or work has you outside often, be sure to use a protective sunscreen.
Products. Everything from the soaps we use to cleanse ourselves to the detergent we use to wash our clothing and dishes, are made from ingredients that have the potential to be harmful. Be sure to read what’s inside them before you buy and use apps like Yuka to get more precise information.
Screenings. In addition to staying current with regular physical exams, there are procedures such as mammograms (to detect breast cancer) and tomography scans (to detect lung cancer) recommended for those of a certain age or who have additional risk factors (such as genetic markers). Ask your healthcare professional what’s best for you.
There are very exciting developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence, where machines are now being used to help detect cancer early. Studies of DNA are providing more insight into the causes of cancer, which can help scientists formulate better lines of defence. Just last year, a new test was developed for early detection of pancreatic cancer, and the first potential tablet to prevent breast cancer is now being tested on British women.
This is very encouraging news and gives all of us a reason to be optimistic about additional breakthroughs in the coming years.
How to Help
If you’d like to offer your support, there are many ways to make a difference in the lives of those impacted by cancer:
Take action by writing to political parties, posting educational messages to social media or lighting up a landmark to bring awareness.
Volunteer to take patients who are unable to drive to their chemotherapy and radiation appointments (check with your local cancer clinic to identify those in need).
If you are suffering from cancer, or navigating cancer treatment with a loved one, here are a few resources that you may find helpful:
Cancer Support Community provides resources for people suffering from cancer—and their partners—in 190+ locations worldwide.
RxList helps users navigate the multiple medicines used to treat cancer.
Vital Options International is a global health foundation that assists patients with financial commitments, community and advocacy.
World Health Organisation (WHO) posts informational documents about cancer management, as well as current news and statistics.
It can be quite difficult to see the sun when confronted with the darkness of cancer—just know that you’re not alone, and that there are people and groups in every corner of the world available to offer you comfort …