Did you know that almost half of the most common cancers in the U.S. are preventable? Do your members?
Use this Cancer Prevention Month as an opportunity to educate your members about cancer and how they can reduce their risk. Here are three steps your members can take to get started.
Understanding Family History
Remind your members to discuss a detailed family history — a record of the diseases and conditions that run in their family — with their doctors. Family members might share similar genes, environments and habits that affect their risk of getting certain types of cancer. Being familiar with a member's medical history will allow a doctor to decide when and how often that member needs additional tests and screenings.
While it's a good idea for anyone to check up on their family medical history, members with a parent, sibling or child who was diagnosed with ovarian, uterine, breast or colorectal cancers before the age of 50 should make a special effort to tell their doctors about their increased risk of getting those conditions. It's also critical for anyone who has at least two or three other relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews) with ovarian, uterine, breast or colorectal cancer to inform their doctor.
Ideally, members will know:
- Their relatives' type of cancer.
- The age they were diagnosed.
- If they're deceased, their cause and age of death.
Members can use the following tactics to build out a family history:
- Ask relatives questions at family gatherings.
- Look at birth and death certificates.
- Read family members' obituaries.
- Consult family trees.
Getting Regular Screenings
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that 1,735,350 people would be newly diagnosed with cancer in 2018. That may seem like a scary number, but there's good news: The number of people who die from cancer continues to drop, thanks in part to early detection and treatment.
Make sure members know when they need to start getting regular cancer screenings, and how often. Screenings help find cancer in people with no symptoms, catching the disease as early as possible. The ACS breaks down screenings by age. Key screenings include:
- Cervical cancer. Guidelines have changed in recent years. The ACS advises that women between the ages of 21 and 29 should get a pap smear every three years to check for ovarian cancer, while women 30 years old and up should get a pap smear and HPV test every five years.
- Prostate cancer. Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. Starting at age 45, men at a higher than average risk should talk to a doctor about the pros and cons of early testing. This includes African-American men and those with a father, brother or son diagnosed before age 65, according to the ACS. At age 50, all men of even average risk should be tested once a year.
- Breast cancer. Starting at age 40, women should consider starting to get annual mammograms. By 45, all women are advised to get a yearly mammogram. From age 55 and on, the ACS recommends getting a mammogram every two years.
- Colon cancer. Anyone at average risk should start testing at age 45. Options include a colonoscopy and stool-based tests, which must be done more often.
- Lung cancer. Members 55 years and older who are active or former smokers (meaning they quit within the last 15 years) may benefit from yearly low-dose CT scans to check for early lung cancer. Not all health insurance plans cover this, however.
Developing Healthy Habits
Just 5 to 10 percent of cancer cases are linked to genes. The remaining 90 to 95 percent are likely triggered by the environment or lifestyle choices. The takeaway? For many people, cancer is highly preventable. Share the following tips, based on ACS guidelines, with your members on healthy choices to help reduce their risk.
- Stop smoking.
- Get to and remain at a healthy weight.
- Watch portion sizes and read food labels.
- Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise every week.
- Spend less time sitting.
- Eat at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day.
- Limit alcohol: for men, no more than two drinks a day; for women, no more than one a day.
- Get enough vitamin D. Studies suggest a link between low vitamin D and some types of cancer.
Just the existence of Cancer Prevention Month isn't enough to improve members' health and prepare them to reduce their risk of getting cancer. Integrate cancer education into your current union newsletter or your monthly meeting, or consider holding a separate Cancer Prevention Month event. And make the fight against cancer a community effort — implement changes in your own lifestyle alongside your members and work to embody Cancer Prevention Month.