Almost to the day on February 4, World Cancer Day, I received my diagnosis last year. I wasn’t aware then that such a commemoration existed, just like I ignored almost everything relative to cancer.
Despite the well-publicized awareness campaigns on World Cancer Day or any other time, it seems you won’t learn anything about cancer unless it comes knocking on your door. Popular myths and misconceptions, however, are deeply ingrained and the picture they paint may be even bleaker than the actual truth.
This year, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) is dedicating World Cancer Day to dispelling damaging myths and improving our knowledge of this disease. Looking at the global cancer burden, they focus on four misconceptions:
- Cancer is just a health issue
- Cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly in developed countries
- Cancer is a death sentence
- Cancer is my fate
World Cancer Day: A global effort
The American Cancer Society (ACS), American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and other health organizations around the world are joining UICC in a global effort to “replace cancer myths with cancer facts.”
Despite the wealth of information available on all types of media, they argue people still don’t know how to protect themselves from cancer. Based on the last survey conducted by the AICR, Americans today are less aware of the key factors that increase cancer risk compared to four years ago.
Instead, the AICR warns, we are concerned about other factors that are out of our control, are not scientifically proven to cause cancer, but are much more likely to make media headlines.
News about environmental threats, agricultural pesticides and food additives attract the public’s attention but do little to prevent this disease. Overwhelmed by health news, Americans might be blocking out the key issue: How a healthy lifestyle can reduce occurrence of the most common cancers up to 1/3.
Best defense plan
We all know we should eat a balanced diet, not smoke, stay active and limit sun exposure. This is our first line of defense against cancer and chronic disease, and this is our Plan B as well! For everyone, cancer patients included, because receiving a cancer diagnosis is no reason to give up, quite the opposite.
Leading a healthy life however, is certainly no guarantee against cancer. Despite the fact that my habits had little room for improvement, I was diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago. But this is still our best shot to prevent cancer from developing and to avoid recurrence.
Countless studies back this up, but with over 1.6 million new cancer cases predicted this year in the US, we still fail on all fronts:
- Obesity: Two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.
- Smoking: Tobacco is linked to 80 percent of lung cancers.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Physical activity lowers the risk of different types of cancer.
Whether a cancer diagnosis is unexpected or arrives after watchful waiting, it is never less than a shock. The initial disbelief, anger, denial or despair gives way to a feeling of guilt. Trying to find some logic, cancer patients tend to blame themselves, even if they haven’t engaged in any “risky” behavior.
Aware of our tremendous lack of information upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, our first impulse is to search the Web looking for answers, but where do you start? Cancer patients need reliable information in order to make informed choices. It is important to communicate and trust your team of oncologists:
- Your physician should be the primary source for this info. Talk to your doctors and leave no question unasked.
- Seek a second opinion if your health plan contemplates this option.
- Ask for information in writing and take a notebook to your appointments.
- Prepare a list of questions before each visit to the doctor.
- Have somebody accompany you to appointments for support.
On the day dedicated to debunking popular myths, how about dismissing this: Cancer is a death sentence. Many cancers that used to be fatal can now be cured, as World Cancer Day is determined to remind us, and many others can be treated. Remember, only in the United States there are almost 14 million cancer survivors to prove this.