February is observed as National Cancer Prevention Month. This makes it a great time to educate yourself on the steps you can take to reduce your cancer risk.
Understand Your Risk Factors
It's impossible to predict with 100% certainty who will be diagnosed with cancer, but certain risk factors are associated with a marked increase in many types of cancers. These include:
- Being an older adult. Studies show one-quarter of new cancer cases are diagnosed in people age 65 to 74.
- Family history of certain cancers. A family history of breast, ovarian, colorectal, or prostate cancer can increase your risk of developing the disease, due to certain hereditary genetic mutations.
- Tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes or regularly spending time around secondhand smoke has been linked to lung, larynx, mouth, esophagus, and throat cancer, in addition to cancers of the stomach, pancreas, bladder, kidney, liver, colon, rectum, and cervix.
- Excessive alcohol consumption. Moderate drinking is defined as consuming up to one drink per day as a woman or up to two drinks per day as a man. If you're regularly drinking more than this, you face an increased cancer risk.
- Being overweight or obese. Carrying excess weight increases your risk of colon, rectal, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, and gallbladder cancer. If you're a postmenopausal woman, you'll also have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Exposure to UV radiation. Spending too much time outside without sun protection or using an indoor tanning bed increases your risk of skin cancer.
- Exposure to environmental toxins. There are a number of environmental toxins linked to various types of cancers, including asbestos, radon, formaldehyde, soot, and wood dust.
Taking steps to reduce or eliminate these factors, such as losing weight or abstaining from alcohol, can substantially decrease your cancer risk. If making major lifestyle changes is overwhelming, focus on smaller changes that can lead to big results, such as limiting fast food to no more than one day per week and making a commitment to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Schedule a Doctor's Appointment
Most people don’t like going to the doctor, but preventative care is the best way to ensure that minor problems are addressed before they become a serious medical crisis. Even if you're feeling great, it's important to visit your doctor at least once per year for a basic checkup.
The thought of being diagnosed with cancer can be frightening, but this is news you want to hear as early as possible. Across the board, cancer survival rates are highest when the cancer is still confined to the place of origin. This is known as Stage I. If you put off a doctor's visit until the cancer has spread and qualifies as Stage II or Stage III, your treatment options will be much more limited.
Be Proactive About Managing Your Health Care
Even though you didn't go to medical school, don't take everything your doctor says at face value. If your doctor is dismissive of any of the following symptoms, seek a second opinion as soon as possible:
- Fatigue despite an effort to get the rest you need
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Sores that won't heal, changes to moles, or other skin changes
- Unexplained bruising or bleeding
- A lump that can be felt under your skin
- Difficulty breathing or a cough that won't go away
- Trouble swallowing
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Indigestion or discomfort after eating that doesn't respond to normal treatment
- Unexplained muscle or joint pain that persists for several weeks
- Recurrent and unexplained fever or night sweats
Although these symptoms don't necessarily mean a patient has cancer, they indicate that further examination or testing is needed. If your doctor orders a mammogram, colonoscopy, or blood test, always check back to find out the results. Failure to report test results is a common basis of cancer-related medical malpractice claims.
Louisiana residents who believe they’ve suffered harm due to a healthcare provider's delay in diagnosis or negligent treatment of their cancer are urged to contact Neblett, Beard & Arsenault to explore their legal options.