MS may cripple or blind me. It may even cut a few years off my life. But odds are much higher that CANCER, rather than MS, will kill me. No question.
Most people with relapsing, remitting MS (the most common type) are in a similar position. Many people with other chronic diseases also have reason to fear cancer. It remains a threat to all of us.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40% of us will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during our lives. Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the U.S. (only heart disease kills more people).
Those of us with chronic disease may be at even higher risk of cancer. My MS medication works, in part, by calming down my hyperactive immune system. Is the trade-off an increased risk of cancer? We don't know. My medicine is too new, and the studies just aren't available yet. But I'm a little bit paranoid.
So what can we do?
A lot, actually:
- Don't smoke – SO important!
- Eat fruits and veggies, 5+ servings a day – more is better. Avoid processed and "fast" foods.
- Exercise most days of the week – more is better.
- Don't drink excessively (no more than 1 drink a day for women, 2 for men).
- Get vaccinated against HPV, the virus that causes cervical and other forms of cancer, if you're under 27 (and possibly even if you're 27-45).
- Stay up-to-date with cancer screening.
Cancer screening catches cancer early, and it can sometimes detect pre-cancer before it becomes a serious problem. Cancer screening saves lives! Make it a top priority for your health:
- For women: Cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus and can occur even in young women. Pap smears, to screen for cervical cancer, are typically done every 3 years beginning at age 21. HPV testing may be substituted for or done in addition to a pap smear in women ages 30-65 every 5 years. Pap smears can detect cancer early and can save lives. (Cervical cancer screening can usually be stopped for women after age 65, assuming adequate prior screening.)
- For women: Mammograms, to screen for breast cancer, are recommended for all women. Guidelines vary and have changed in recent years, but mammograms are usually done every 1 to 2 years starting at age 45 or 50. The doctor can consider your specific risk factors for breast cancer and help make a decision about when to start screening, how often to screen, and when to stop.
- For men: Prostate cancer screening for men, usually ages 55-69, is controversial, but recent guidelines recommend weighing the risks and benefits with a physician.
- For everyone: Colon cancer screening - via colonoscopy, stool tests, or other methods - is important for everyone, usually beginning at age 50. There are several different options, though the "gold standard" is usually considered to be colonoscopy. Those with a family history of colon cancer should start screening earlier.
- For smokers or former smokers: Lung cancer screening – via low-dose CT scan – is an option for smokers or those who have quit in the last 15 years, who are 55-80 years old. Talk to your doctor to discuss the risks and benefits.
For more information, check out the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, Centers for Disease Control, or the American Cancer Society.
And do NOT rely on supplements, vitamins, herbs, or magic beans to prevent or treat cancer.
Stay healthy and safe, my friends. What are some of your stay-healthy and cancer-free strategies? Please add your comments below.