Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Prevention in Plain Language

Often, an article in the paper or a story on the national news will present a lot of great information about cancer prevention. Sometimes, the information can be confusing, and viewers might have a difficult time pulling out the details in the story that apply to their daily lives in real time. New diets and fitness routines can seem too complicated to begin or maintain, and medical research stories don't make it clear how the new findings apply to individuals' daily lives, so it becomes easy to dismiss the information entirely.

To help you navigate the sometimes confusing messages we hear in the media, we've asked our Director of Cancer Prevention and Outreach, Casey Shelor,to answer a few questions for us. Casey is one of our Certified Health Education Specialists who work in the community of Northwest Arkansas providing education and information in group settings and to individuals.

Q: Recently, reports have shown that more young people are being diagnosed with skin cancer than in previous years. What is causing that trend, and how can it be reversed?

A: Most young people don't equate tanned skin with damaged skin, but that's what is actually is. Dr. Bob Burns, PhD in the Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences at the UAMS College of Medicine explains:
"All skin cancers are caused by unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Research has proven that the cause of skin cancers is not necessarily related to a lifetime of unprotected exposure to UV radiation, but to unprotected exposure such as sunburns or tanning booth exposures in early childhood/adolescent years. Unprotected exposure in the younger years not only causes the development of skin cancers... these skin cancers develop [faster]."
Avoiding unprotected exposure to UV radiation, both natural and mad-made, would reverse the upward trend of skin malignancies in younger people.

Q: Does ending a smoking habit really make a difference for people who have been smoking for decades? 

A: Absolutely. The benefits of quitting smoking (even if you have smoked the majority of your life) can be seen almost immediately - within 20 minutes! According to the American Cancer Society, after you quit smoking the following are benefits you will see over time:

  • 20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
  • 12 hours after quitting: Your carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal.
  • 2 weeks - 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves and lung function increases. 
  • 1-9 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) start to regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce risk of infection.
  • 1 year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is cut to half that of a continuing smoker. 
  • 5 years after quitting: Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after 2-5 years. 
  • 10 years after quitting: The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases. 
  • 15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is the same as that of a non-smoker.

No matter how long you have smoked - 1 year or 50 years - it is never too late to quit. You will see benefits for years to come!

Q: The HPV vaccine is supposed to prevent cervical and other cancers caused by the sexually-transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV). But if my children are not sexually active, do they still need to have the vaccine?

A: I would definitely recommend the vaccination to any young female or male. It is actually recommended that to receive the maxiumum benefit from the HPV vaccination, an individual should complete all three doses before sexual activity begins.

The vaccination protects against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. It can be administered between the ages of 9 and 26 years, but the recommended age for receiving the vaccination is 11 or 12 years of age.

Q: If you were recommending just one thing people could do to reduce their risk of being diagnosed with cancer, what would it be? 

A: I would urge people to quit, or never start, using tobacco products. According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco use is responsible for most cases of lung cancer and it increases the risk for cancers of the mouth, lips, nasal cavity (nose) and sinuses, larynx (voice box), throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, uterus, cervix, colon/rectum, ovaries, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Cancer can not only increase the risk of being diagnosed with cancer, but is also responsible for at least 30% of all cancer deaths and 87% of lung cancer deaths.

Thanks to Casey for all this great information! Share your cancer prevention-related questions with us and we will post another Q & A in the future based on your questions.

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