Frontline Cancer: Resolve to fight cancer in 2015

By now, your New Year’s resolutions are at least a few weeks old and hopefully, they’re still in effect. Like you, I’m all in favor of saving money, spending more time with family, getting organized, taking trips, managing stress and helping others. These are among the most popular New Year’s resolutions, according to the federal government. They’re all tried and true.

Well, mostly tried. While roughly half of American adults consciously (and conspicuously) make a resolution or two each New Year, less than 8 percent successfully achieve them, reported a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

That’s a shame, but promising yourself to be less grumpy or watch less TV and falling short isn’t the end of the world. You can always try again next year … and the year after that.

Much more pressing is the making – and keeping – of resolutions that reduce your risk of cancer. An estimated 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2015, a figure that doesn’t include disease types not required to be reported to cancer registries. Last year, 585,720 Americans died of cancer (in all of its forms), which works out to almost 1,600 people per day. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease. In San Diego, county health officials say it is the leading cause of death, recently, exceeding heart disease, and killing approximately 5,000 San Diegans annually.

There are no surprises in what resolutions work best at reducing the risk of cancer. They’re common sense, buttressed by decades of hard science. You probably already know most of them, but read on and remember. Following these resolutions could help ensure that you are around next year at this time to make new ones.

1) Stop using tobacco. This is the single most important and effective way to reduce your cancer risk. Smoking and other forms of tobacco use are linked to cancers of the lung, bladder, pancreas, kidney, nose, mouth, cervix, prostate and colon, to name just a few. Tobacco is a major factor in heart disease, miscarriage, ear infections, and asthma, even the common cold. The use of tobacco products kills more than 440,000 Americans annually.

2) Lose those excess pounds and keep them off. Being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk of a variety of cancers, including breast, prostate, esophagus, kidney and uterine. It’s estimated that one-quarter to one-third of some cancers are related to excess weight. There’s a corollary to this: While much has been written touting the virtues of fruits and vegetables, particularly those rich in antioxidants, as cancer-fighters, there is no real, definitive evidence to prove it. Still, a well-balanced diet featuring fruits and vegetables can help you obtain and maintain a healthy weight.

3) Exercise regularly. In addition to reducing weight, numerous studies have shown that regular physical activity significantly reduces the risk of some cancers, notably breast and colon. Regular exercise also improves heart health, helps manage stress and improves mood and self-esteem – all of which help your body fend off disease.

4) Limit your drinking. Alcohol is linked to cancers of the breast, colon, mouth, esophagus, liver and larynx. If you do drink, experts recommend no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman, two if you’re a man. It doesn’t matter whether it’s wine, beer or spirits. Drinking and smoking is particularly harmful, dramatically increasing the risk associated with either cancer-causing agent alone.

5) Get screened. Early detection is the best way to overcome a cancer diagnosis. Don’t wait until you’re sick to see a physician. If you don’t have a personal doctor, get one and schedule an appointment to talk about your health and disease risk. There are recommended schedules for different types of cancer screenings, which include mammographies, pap tests, skin examination, prostate-specific antigen tests, colonoscopies and now, lung cancer screening in current or former heavy smokers. In November, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a proposed decision memorandum for approved coverage for low-dose computed tomography screening in this group, citing sufficient evidence indicating screening reduced lung cancer mortality by 20 percent in smokers at high risk. People with a family history of cancer, certain genetic changes or syndromes, should consult with their doctor to determine if they should be screened earlier or more often.

6) Get vaccinated. It is exciting that vaccination is, at last, part of the cancer prevention repertoire. Hepatitis B virus infection and subsequent liver cancers can be prevented with vaccination.

Another vaccine, which has engendered national debate, is the human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine. It can prevent cervical cancer in women and, more recent data indicates that it can prevent oropharyngeal and anogenital cancers in both women and men. If you were not vaccinated against Hepatitis B or human papillomavirus as a child, your physician can advise you if this should be part of your cancer prevention arsenal.

7) Don’t get too much sun. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. There are nearly 4 million cases of non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer diagnosed each year. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. Most skin cancers develop after age 50, but damage from sun exposure begins far earlier in life.

To protect yourself and your children, minimize skin exposure to direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; wear wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved clothing or a swim skin or similar barrier while enjoying our beautiful beaches; and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher. Skin cancers can occur on areas that are not easily seen, like the back, scalp, or the soles of the feet. Remember to include yearly skin examinations as part of your cancer screenings.

Have a happy, fulfilling and cancer-free new year.