Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cancer: Prevention or Detection?

I recently spent a couple of days with my relative who is grappling with cancer.  It gave me plenty of time to reflect on what cancer represents.  Cancer is not only about the threat to our health and life; it is also about the physical and emotional agony it causes. No one should have to endure it.

On the plane back from the visit, I noticed an article in Delta's complementary airline magazine about the partnership forged between Delta and the American Cancer Society. The article spoke about the importance of cancer prevention and how it relates to cancer screening. To be fair, detection of cancer is really not prevention at all except if it is referring to prevention of death. There is no doubt that certain detection tests like annually checking for blood in the stool and a digital rectal exam are helpful in finding cancer early and potentially avoiding another cancer caused death.  But detection tests do not prevent cancer.

In fact, there are very few things most people do or even doctors advocate to prevent cancer. The HPV vaccine is one rare example. Not smoking is another. Avoiding obesity has become a more common refrain. The question is, however, given the ravages of and pain and discomfort caused by cancer, which I just witnessed first-hand, why isn't there a greater focus on actual cancer prevention?

Recent studies have revealed the extent that gene mutations play in cancer development.  What continues to baffle researchers are the specific causes of these gene mutations. Is it hereditary or environmental? Is it fate or self-fulfilling?  I will not pretend to have the definitive answer because it is simply unknown. Yet, here is what we do know. Chemicals can cause gene mutations. This is a fact beyond a shadow of the doubt. We are exposed to chemicals in so many forms they seem unavoidable. They exist in our foods, on our foods, from the products we eat our food with, wrap our food, store our food, etc. They are in products we put on our bodies, and inhale on a daily basis. While they are ubiquitous, it doesn't mean we should take comfort in the old adage that "everything causes cancer so you can't avoid it and you shouldn't try."  This type of outdated thinking is a mistake and displays serious denial of the risks of unrelenting exposure to dangerous chemicals.

So what's a person to do? What if you can't afford to buy organic, have to live where you work, can't eliminate all the chemicals in your house? The answer is: do the best you can, but don't ignore the threat. No one can guarantee that your efforts will pay off any more than buying a lottery ticket is a sure thing. However, unlike a lottery ticket or placing a bet in a casino, making a conscious effort to limit your chemical exposure, particularly in your food, may spare you unimaginable pain and grief.

So take the time to read labels and if you don't recognize an ingredient, don't let the so called food pass through your pearly gates, your teeth. You may not be able for yet inexplicable reasons to prevent cancer, but don't let your ignorance be the cause of it.

I apologize for the solemn tone of today's blog, but watching my relative suffer close-up makes me want to do everything and anything to spare others from the same fate. It's your health. It's your life. Please take control.

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