February is National Cancer Prevention Month
Hearing the words, “Your child has cancer,” is the worst news a parent can hear. Parents often ask how this could have happened. In adults, often lifestyle and environmental factors can be linked to a cancer diagnosis. But how does a child get cancer? Many hospitals and research organizations are committed to finding the causes of pediatric cancer. While experts continue to research, the reasons remain unknown. A family history of cancer or a wayward gene can increase the risk in children, but fortunately, cancer-causing genes are rare.
Are there ways to prevent cancer?
February is National Cancer Prevention Month, and it is a time for parents to reflect on their lives and determine if there are ways to reduce the risks of cancer not only for themselves but also for their loved ones. It is difficult to predict a cancer diagnosis, but there are preventative measures an individual can take to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. This list is almost entirely designed for adults. But as the example in the home, if you eat right and follow these steps, it will lead to healthier children who develop healthy habits. The thought of completely changing your lifestyle may seem overwhelming. However, if you focus on the following five areas and make gradual changes, it likely will lead to a healthier life for you and your entire family including your children, and significantly reduce cancer risk.
Five steps to reduce the risk of cancer
- Use sunscreen and limit direct sunlight exposure. You can make a few simple changes with little effort to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Apply sunscreen to skin with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15, reapply throughout the day, wear a hat that shades your face, and avoid direct sunlight during the peak heat of the day. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, regular daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce melanoma skin cancer risk by 50%.
- Eat more vegetables and get sugar from fruits. A healthy diet can play a role in preventing cancer. Reduce sugar intake from sources that are not fruits. A poor diet can lead to obesity, which is associated with several types of diseases, including gallbladder, stomach, and colon cancers. The American Cancer Society recommends at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Foods high in dietary fiber, including whole-grain cereals and vegetables, can decrease colon cancer risk.
- Exercise more often. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 3-5 hours of moderate exercise each week to lower cancer risk. The NIH has conducted studies showing that exercise can stabilize the levels of some hormones like estrogen and insulin tied to cancer risk. Having an active lifestyle and maintaining a healthy body weight decreases breast, bowel, and uterine cancers.
- Eliminate tobacco use. When a person lights up a cigarette, they are essentially letting poison into their body. Smoking increases the risk of over a dozen different types of cancer, including lung, throat, and certain types of leukemias. Secondhand smoke can also cause cancer. According to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC), lung cancer risk in nonsmokers can increase by 20-30% while being around a smoker in the home or workplace.
- Reduce alcohol consumption. During the fermentation and production of alcoholic beverages, many carcinogenic contaminants are established during the process. These carcinogens can cause cancer by changing a cell’s DNA. According to several studies by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), there is a connection between alcohol consumption and the development of liver and breast cancers.
Other factors, such as avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals like indoor pesticides, can reduce children’s risk of leukemia. Immunization vaccines for Hepatitis B and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can also help reduce cancer risk.
Lifestyle changes to bring your family together
It may seem like a tall order to make so many lifestyle changes simultaneously. A gradual change can be a more realistic approach and help you stick to a plan. Getting your whole family involved in these modifications can encourage everybody to make positive steps to reduce cancer risk. A family plan to eat healthier and exercise more can become fun family activities. Cooking together and outdoor physical activity can bring a family closer together. Until there is a cure, cancer will remain an unpredictable disease, but focusing on National Cancer Prevention Month is a way to remember that all of us have some control over our health.
Here to Serve can help
If your child does receive a cancer diagnosis, please know that Here to Serve is available to help you and your family navigate all the uncertainty. For close to a decade, Here to Serve has been assisting families and providing guidance with hard-to-find resources, home help, and financial assistance when navigating a child’s cancer journey. Our volunteer staff can offer advice and resources as your child bravely goes through their cancer battle.
By Chris Smith