National Cancer Control Month: It’s all about prevention!

1 May

By: Charles R. Rogers, MSAS [] Texas A&M University

“Cancer changes your life, often for the better. You learn what’s important, you learn to prioritize, and you learn not to waste your time. You tell people you love them. My friend Gilda Radner (who died of ovarian cancer in 1989 at age 42) used to say, ‘If it wasn’t for the downside, having cancer would be the best thing and everyone would want it.’ That’s true. If it wasn’t for the downside.”

Despite the fact that nearly 12 years has passed, this excerpt from PEOPLE Weekly’s August 6, 2011 issue by Joel Siegel (Good Morning America movie critic) still hits home with most of us today. In 2013, approximately 1,660,290 people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer, and an estimated 580,350 people will die of cancer (5). For all cancers combined, the rate of new cancer cases and death rates are the highest among African-American men and women (1). A growing body of research has highlighted an array of lifestyle decisions that Americans can make to reduce their risk of cancer, such as exercising regularly, quitting tobacco, limiting alcohol intake, using sun protection, eating healthier, and undergoing recommended screenings (2).

Routine screening is essential to diagnosing cancer at an earlier, more treatable stage. Yet, screening disparities exist among African Americans. The literature discusses how the fear of cancer, perceived cost of care, and lack of physician referral are common barriers to cancer screening and other preventive services (4). Beyond the potential for avoiding death, screening may reduce cancer morbidity since treatment for earlier-stage cancers is often less aggressive than that for more advanced-stage cancers. As a colorectal cancer researcher, I can speak in depths on the importance of screening, but will instead refocus our discussion on national efforts to prevent and control cancer.

On March 29, 2013, President Barack Obama made an official proclamation for April to be National Cancer Control Month. In the proclamation, he wrote:

“Together, our Nation is moving forward in the fight against cancer. As we recommit to improving prevention, detection and treatment, let us honor the memory of the courageous men and women we have lost to the disease, and let us stand with all those facing it today … I encourage citizens, government agencies, private businesses, nonprofit organizations and other interested groups to join in activities that will increase awareness of what Americans can do to prevent cancer (3).”

With continued education, research and advances, National Cancer Control Month should not simply be a time for rededicating and reminding, but a call for action for each of us to do our part in assuring that African Americans no longer live sicker and die younger in contrast to their counterparts from cancer – a preventative disease (6).

References 

1 U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2008 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta (GA): Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute; 2012. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/uscs.

2 National Cancer Institute. (2006, October 4). Risk factors. Retrieved from What You Need To Know About Cancer website: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/cancer/page3

3 Obama, B., & The White House. (2013, March 29). Presidential proclamation — national cancer control month, 2013. website: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/29/presidential-proclamation-national-cancer-control-month-2013

4 Breen, N., Wagener, D. K., Brown, M. L., & Davis, W. W. (2001). Progress in cancer screening over a decade: Results of cancer screening from the 1987, 1992, and 1998 national health interview surveys. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 93(22), 1704-1713.

5 American Cancer Society.: Cancer Facts and Figures 2013. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2013. Available online. Last accessed March 13, 2013.

6 Institute of Medicine. (2002). Unequal Treatment Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

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