You have cancer.
Many of us would do just about anything to never hear these life-altering words. Leading a healthy lifestyle is an undeniably great place to start, and is accompanied by a host of other long-term health benefits. But reducing your risk of cancer – and improving your chances of survival – involves an even greater focus on prevention.
Whether you are battling a cancer diagnosis or taking your first steps to avoid one, here’s what you need to know about the critical importance of prevention.
Reducing Your Risk
Want to understand your level of cancer risk? You can start by familiarizing yourself with the major contributors to a variety of common cancers:
- Sun exposure
- Diet & Exercise
- Carcinogen exposure
- Being immunocompromised
“It can be overwhelming to realize how many aspects of our daily life could increase our risk of cancer,” said Dr. Michael Ray, Radiation Oncologist at ThedaCare. “The truth is, cancer can occur without explanation, too. But your likelihood of avoiding or surviving cancer is much higher if you follow simple prevention methods like wearing sunscreen, keeping your alcohol intake to a minimum, and not smoking.”
There are other, less common factors that may also increase cancer risk, such as viruses like HPV, HIV and hepatitis. But before you get overwhelmed, remember your best asset in cancer prevention is following the recommendations of someone who understands your unique health history and lifestyle: your primary care physician.
The Importance of Early Detection
Detecting cancer before it spreads is critical to shortening your cancer journey and increasing your chances of survival. There are several cancer screenings your doctor will recommend based on your age and medical history, including:
- Colonoscopy (colon cancer)
- Mammogram (breast cancer)
- Annual skin exams (skin cancer)
- Pap smears (cervical cancer)
- Lung cancer screening
- Prostate cancer screening
Doctors recommend most of these screening procedures for people aged 45 years or older. However, some cancer screenings begin much earlier or are reserved for certain individuals, such as cervical cancer screenings for women starting at age 21, and lung cancer screenings for those with a substantial history of smoking.
Navigating a Cancer Diagnosis
A cancer diagnosis may instill a sense of fear or panic. If it’s caught early enough, however, there are a variety of treatment options available.
Radiation therapy, in particular, offers the versatility to treat a wide variety of cancers.
“Radiation therapy uses x-rays to target and eliminate cancer cells,” said Dr. Ray. “It is highly effective for treating cancer on its own, or can be combined with other therapies like surgery, immunotherapy, or cancer therapy.”
Many patients receive external beam radiation treatments, but specialized approaches like stereotactic radiation treatment and brachytherapy may be appropriate for patients who require limited radiation exposure or more precise application.
“Cancer treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all specialty,” said Dr. Harsha Poola, Oncologist & Hematologist at ThedaCare. “Here at ThedaCare, we’re committed to offering a more individualized approach to cancer treatment. Home to five Centers of Excellence, we’re making a deliberate shift toward personalized medicine.”
Personalized medicine is a relatively new approach to cancer treatment that challenges the status quo for most traditional cancer treatment regimens.
“When determining the best course of treatment for each cancer patient, I consider a variety of factors,” said Dr. Poola. “This includes molecular characteristics of their tumor, their medical history, overall health, and even their psychosocial wellbeing. When it makes sense, patients may also have the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial and benefit from promising treatments currently in development.”
Dr. Ray reiterated the importance of choosing a health system and cancer care team that puts patients first.
“Focus your search on a cancer center that offers a state-of-the-art, multidisciplinary approach,” he said. “In addition to a variety of innovative treatments, ensure you and your family will have access to cancer navigation services, nutrition counseling, genetic counseling, behavioral health services, physical and occupational therapy, clinical trials and research, cosmetology, palliative care, and more. From risk assessment, to treatment and recovery, you deserve a care team that’s at your side every step of the way.
Schedule an appointment with your primary provider to discuss your cancer risk and preventive screening options available to you..