February Is An Important Month

The National Health Information Center has highlighted several important topics in February: American Heart Month, AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month, National Cancer Prevention Month, National Children’s Dental Health Month, and National Wise Health Consumer Month. In addition, there will be Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week and National Eating Disorders Week.


Since all of these are important topics, I thought that I’d start discussing them a few days early and return to the topic of diabetes throughout the month.


Cancer Prevention


Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. But cancer, which is number 2, isn’t far behind. Which cancer is leading this dismal pack? Lung cancer. In 2004 (the most recent data available) lung cancer killed over 150,000 Americans, more than breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer COMBINED.


How to prevent most lung cancers? DO NOT SMOKE!! While not all lung cancers are caused by smoking, it is the number one preventable cause of lung cancer.


The risk factors for lung cancer are:

  • Smoking and second hand smoke
  • Environmental factors in the home or workplace, for example radon gas
  • Genetics and family history of lung cancer.


*** The CDC national “QuitLine” is 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669); TTY 1-800-332-8615.***


How does diet affect cancer risk? While many foods have been promoted as cancer preventing, there is little hard evidence that any one food or element reduces cancer risk. However, there are suggestive correlations between diet and cancer risk. For example, in populations which consume a diet high in fat there is a slightly higher incidence of breast cancer. However, this does not mean that a low fat diet is a preventative. There is also a small correlation between obesity and increased incidence of breast cancer. But again, REMEMBER a correlation is not a cause. But since a low-fat, high fiber diet is a known factor in the prevention of heart disease and obesity is a know risk factor, it’s wise to lower fats and increase fiber in your diet.


How about cancer vaccines? There are two types of cancer vaccines: therapeutic vaccines and prophylactic vaccines. Therapeutic vaccines stimulate the immune system to attack existing cancer cells. Prophylactic vaccines stimulate the immune system to attack cancer-causing viruses and prevent viral infection.


There are currently two prophylactic vaccines available: a vaccine against hepatitis B, which is closely associated with the development of liver cancer, and a vaccine against the Human Papilloma Viruses 16 and 18, which cause cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is recommended for 11 and 12 year old girls.


How about skin cancer? Wear sunscreen and put it on all your children over the age of six months.


Screening tests for cancer aren’t strictly preventative. As all screening tests, they are meant to catch a problem in an early stage. So, for cancer screening:

  • inspect your mouth for odd looking discolored or white patches
  • examine your skin for changes in moles or the appearance of new ones
  • breast self-examinations (you men, too!)
  • mammograms
  • colonoscopy
  • self-examination of the testicles
  • stool tests for occult (hidden, microscopic) blood
  • Pap smears of the cervix.


Not all cancer is preventable. But why not do what you can to prevent it?


For Seven Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer see http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/cancer-prevention/CA00024/METHOD=print


1 Response to “February Is An Important Month”

  1. 1 Radon Mitigation February 3, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Great blog! Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Lives can be saved with increased awareness of this silent killer!

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Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN


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