According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the second leading cause of death in America. Although anyone can develop cancer, some factors can put you at a higher risk. Below, Warren Wong, MD, a hematologist/oncologist with Adventist Hinsdale and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospitals, discusses the top-five cancer risks and what you can do to avoid them.
Smoking – More than 180,000 Americans die from tobacco-related cancers each year, including lung, oral, kidney and bladder cancers. In addition, smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States.
It’s never too late to quit. Learn about smoking cessation classes.
Overexposure – Overexposure to sun, radiation and certain chemicals can increase your cancer risk. Help protect yourself by:
- Wearing sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher
- Avoiding tanning beds
Following proper safety measures when dealing with chemicals at work and at home, such as when handling pesticides or solvents
Viruses and infection – Certain viruses and infections can increase your cancer risk. For example, human papillomavirus (HPV) is a main cause of cervical cancer and hepatitis B or C can cause liver cancer. To protect yourself, never share needles and practice safe sex.
Family History – According to the National Cancer Institute, most cancers develop from changes in genes, some of which are passed from parent to child. For example, colon, breast and ovarian cancer tend to run in families. Although you can’t change your genetics, it’s important to tell your doctor about your family history of cancer. Genetic testing is also an option to check for genes that can increase your cancer risk, such as the BRCA 1 and 2 breast cancer genes. Knowing this information helps your doctor create a more individualized prevention plan.
- Obesity – Being obese, or having a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or greater can increase your risk for cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney and uterus. To maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet and exercise often.
What screenings do I need?
According to Dr. Wong, cancer screenings should be on everyone’s health checklist. “Screenings help us find cancer at its earliest stages, which gives patients a better outcome,” he says. While those in high-risk groups may need to get cancer screenings more often, there are certain screenings that everyone should get.
- Screening mammograms and self exams for breast cancer. Women should receive a baseline mammogram at age 40 and every year thereafter. Patients with a family history or those who had prior radiation to their chest should be considered for earlier screening. Also, women interested in self exams can perform this test monthly starting in their 20s.
- Pap tests for cervical cancer. Women should receive this screening annually beginning at age 21 or three years after they become sexually active.
- Colonoscopy for colon cancer. Both men and women should get this screening starting at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter.
- PSA and digital rectal exams for prostate cancer. Although experts in the medical field dispute the age to start this screening, the American Cancer Society recommends that men talk to their doctors before deciding if and when to be tested. For men with an average risk, discussions with a physician should start at age 50. To learn more, read “PSA Testing: Weighing the risks and benefits.”
At Adventist Midwest Health, patients can find a variety of screenings to help detect cancer at its earliest stages. To learn about screenings in your area, click here.
Screenings should be your first line of defense. Help detect colon cancer at home with our easy FIT detection test. To receive yours for $10, call us at 866-533-7968. For more information, watch this video.