For many of us the changing of seasons from Summer to Fall is marked not by a date on the calendar, but by another event we link with this time of year, such as the changing colour of the leaves, the kids heading back to school, seeing pumpkins out front of the supermarket or the start of hockey season.
As someone who has worked in the healthcare sector for many years and who is constantly wearing that hat, something that always reminds me that Autumn is upon us is the reappearance of pink ribbons recognizing breast cancer awareness and Movember mustaches raising awareness for men’s health.
Due to the significant number of people affected by breast and prostate cancer and the remarkable efforts of those raising awareness and funds, the symbols attached to these two diseases seem to have found a special place in the public consciousness. It is important to remember though, that these are but two of the many faces of this often devastating disease. Many cancers have far lower levels of awareness, especially when it comes to their signs and symptoms, or lack thereof.
By now, most women are aware that finding a lump in their breast is cause for concern, but a great many cancers may not exhibit symptoms until their later stages or have symptoms similar to other health conditions.
We are extremely fortunate here in the HNHB LHIN to have some of the province’s very best cancer treatment centres and many accomplished specialists. More than ever before, those who are diagnosed with cancer have greater access to care and the ability to receive treatments closer to home, thanks to our integrated regional cancer program. These programs are tremendous accomplishments, but treating cancer after it has developed and progressed is always the last line of defense.
This best way to reduce the impact of cancer is to prevent it from developing in the first place, or in the very least catch it in its early stages when treatment outcomes are far better. This is where cancer education and screening play a vital role.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 2 in 5 Canadians (45% of men and 42% of women) will develop cancer in their lifetime and 1 in 4 (29% of men and 24% of women) will die from cancer. We also know that up to 50% of cancers could be prevented by changes to risk factors related to behaviours.
To help Ontarians better understand what factors influence their chances of developing cancer and what steps they can take to reduce their risk, Cancer Care Ontario launched a new online tool called My CancerIQ earlier this year. This interactive questionnaire allows men and women to calculate their personalized risk of developing breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancer and provides individualized recommendations on how to reduce cancer risks.
Helping people to better understand their risks, including hereditary factors, empowers them to take a more active role in their health, such as raising concerns with their family physician or scheduling a screening appointment, or making positive lifestyle changes.
It is impossible to change certain risk factors such as age or family history, but there are a variety of positive lifestyle changes almost everyone can make to help reduce their chances of developing cancer and live a healthier life, such as:
Quit Smoking – The single most effective thing you can do to reduce your chance of developing cancer is to live smoke free. Statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society, show that smoking is responsible for 30% of all cancer deaths in Canada and is related to more than 85% of all lung cancer cases. Looking beyond lung cancer however, smoking also increases your risk of developing virtually every type of cancer from cancers of the esophagus, mouth and throat, to others you might not expect, like kidney, pancreas and ovarian cancer. Quitting smoking will also make you feel better in so many other ways and may make it easier to make other lifestyle changes, like being more active.
Exercise Daily – As little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day is all it takes. Whether you spend time at the gym or go for a walk, getting active has been shown to help protect against colon cancer and reduce your risk of developing certain women’s cancers. Physical activity is also one of the best ways to maintain a healthy body weight, which further reduces your chances of developing cancer.
Eat a Healthy Diet – Eating well is about making sure to include a variety of foods to provide the nutrients your body needs to maintain ideal health. While it’s important to make sure we aren’t overeating, eating well isn’t about counting calories, it’s about balance, moderation and variety. Food author Michael Pollan, sums it up well saying “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The takeaway here is to cut out or cut down on processed foods, which tend to be high in saturated and trans fats, salt and sugars, choose proper portion sizes and increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. Following these guidelines also results in a diet that is naturally low in red and processed meats and high in plant-based fibre, both of which help protect against colorectal and gastrointestinal cancers and again contributes to achieving a healthy body weight.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption – Many people are surprised to learn that drinking alcohol increases your chance of developing cancer. If you chose to consume alcohol, whether it be beer, wine or spirits, you can reduce your risk by keeping it to less than 1 drink a day for women or 2 for men. Consuming in excess of 3 drinks a day significantly increases your risk of developing breast, mouth, esophagus, colon and rectal cancer among others.
Be Sun Smart - No one likes to stay inside on a sunny day, so make sure to cover up or apply a broad spectrum sunscreen to protect against damaging UV rays and reduce your chances of developing skin cancer. Remember to reapply throughout the day and the higher the SPF the better!
Achieving any goal, including integrating healthier choices into your lifestyle, takes perseverance and dedication and can mean breaking old habits or forming new ones. To increase your chances of success, make your goals realistic and sustainable. Start with one or two changes and add on from there to increase your odds of achieving long-term change.
To complete the My CancerIQ risk assessment, visit: www.mycanceriq.ca.
To learn more about more about specific cancer types, including signs and symptoms visit the Canadian Cancer Society’s webpage at www.cancer.ca/.
To learn more about Cancer screening in the HNHB LHIN, or to find out how to schedule an appointment, visit http://www.hnhbscreenforlife.ca/.
If you or your organization would like to be featured in a future blog or share a patient story in one of our Voices in the Community videos you can reach us through our office, or if you’re on social media via our Twitter handle -@HNHB_LHINgage. Your feedback and questions are always welcome.