5 important cancer prevention updates

Most people agree — the best way to beat cancer is to prevent it. What can we do as a nation to help people live healthier lives today so they can avoid cancer tomorrow?

Major research findings and policy changes are steps in the right direction. Here are some important cancer prevention milestones we’ve reached in the past year.

1. Lung cancer screening is now a reality for selected patients

Smoking causes more cancer deaths than any other unhealthy habit. So, if you have history of smoking, you may be concerned about developing lung cancer.

Now you may be able to get some answers. The National Lung Screening Trial showed that, for some smokers and former smokers, getting a CT scan can detect lung cancer at an early stage and reduce the chances of death.

But, lung cancer screening isn’t for everyone. Getting a CT scan does have certain risks. For those who qualify based on the recent findings, however, the benefits certainly outweigh the risks.

Find out if you should get screened.

2. Health care reform makes preventing cancer more affordable

Thanks to health care reform, getting cancer screening exams and adopting healthy habits to reduce cancer risks should be much less costly.

That’s because many health insurance plans must now provide preventive services — without requiring a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible. This should make it easier to get help if you want to improve your diet, lose weight or quit smoking — all lifestyle changes that can help prevent cancer.

Learn what’s covered under health care reform.

3. Experts take proactive approach on avoiding everyday toxins

It’s better to be safe than sorry. That’s the approach experts are taking in the 2010 President’s Cancer Panel Report on environmental cancer risks.

“We don’t know how much environmental factors contribute to new cancer cases,” says Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D., co-writer of this report and professor emerita at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “But until we know more, our advice is to take a proactive approach by finding ways to reduce your contact with toxic chemicals and radiation.”

Alone, these actions may seem trivial. But together, small changes may reduce your exposure to everyday toxins. And that may lower your chances of getting cancer.

Learn what small changes you can make.

4. Large study shows cancer risk varies depending on hormone therapy use

Results from the Women’s Health Initiative confirmed that women who take combined hormone therapy (estrogen and progestin) have a higher risk of breast cancer.

The data from this 15-year study also revealed that the longer women use combined hormones, the more their cancer risk appears to increase.

So, what if you’re taking a non-combined hormone? Do all hormone therapies increase cancer risk?

Well, follow-up results shared this past April showed that taking:

  • Progestin-alone HT does increase breast cancer risk, but
  • Estrogen-alone HT for a short term does not increase risk of breast cancer

And, for cancer survivors, the data revealed that taking estrogen-alone hormones shortly after completing cancer treatment does increase cancer risk. But, for those who are years out of treatment, short-term use of estrogen-alone does not increase risk.

Learn more about the hormone therapy and cancer risk.

5. Half of all states now have smoking bans

A growing number of states have banned smoking in public areas and workplaces. And, if progress continues, the entire country could have laws banning smoking in all indoor areas by 2020, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This is good news since about 88 million nonsmoking Americans are still exposed to secondhand smoke each year. And, according to the CDC, secondhand smoke causes about 3,400 lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers every year.

So, banning smoking in public places and workplaces is one of the most effective ways to protect everyone from its dangers.

Find out how your state is protecting you from secondhand smoke.

Therese B. Bevers is medical editor of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Focused on Health.

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