Learn your risk factors and take preventative steps to avoid cancer

Cancer has become a familiar presence in the lives of most people born in the 20th Century or later. Either we have personally battled cancer ourselves, or our friends or loved ones have been touched by this pitiless killer.

The second-leading cause of death in the U.S., cancer claimed over 500,000 lives last year in this country alone.

Cancer is not a single disease but one with many faces that impact people in different ways. All kinds of cancer and they begin when cells in a part of the body become abnormal and start making more cells. These cells then form a mass of tissue and in some cases the cancer cells can break away and spread to other parts of the body.

People over the age of 50 are at higher risk of developing some kinds of cancer, including:

  • breast cancer
  • cervical or ovarian cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • mouth or throat cancers
  • prostate cancer
  • skin cancer

It is important to be screened for cancer regularly because if cancer is caught in the early stages the chance for recovery is greater.

There are some symptoms you should watch for:

  • a thickening lump in the breast or other part of the body
  • a new mole or change in an existing one
  • a sore that does not heal
  • hoarseness or cough that does not go away
  • changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • discomfort after eating
  • a hard time swallowing
  • unusual bleeding or discharge
  • feeling weak or tired

There are many different ways of fighting cancer once it is diagnosed: surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the most common. For some cancers, there are experimental drugs or clinical trials but they are not guaranteed to work.

You cannot prevent cancer and there is no vaccine to protect yourself against it, but it is believed that two-thirds of all cancers may be linked to things you can control. Here are ways you can lower your risk:

  • do not use tobacco products
  • avoid sunburns
  • eat right
  • keep your weight down
  • stay active
  • do not consume large amounts of alcohol

For cancer patients and their loved ones, education and professional or community support are vitally important parts of treatment and recovery.

In the U.S., begin your self-education by visiting the American Cancer Society, which offers vast resources and educational materials. In Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society plays an important role in educating patients and helping those who face cancer enhance their quality of life.