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304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
It’s simple and effective, but many of us choose to skip it.
It seems like there’s new information about cancer every day—what might cause it, how you can prevent it, myths versus facts… the list goes on, and sifting through the data can feel overwhelming. However, there are some indisputable facts about cancer: according to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for almost 10 million deaths in 2020. WHO also reports that between 30 and 50 percent of cancers can be prevented by avoiding risk factors and “implementing existing, evidence-based prevention strategies.”
“The cancer burden can also be reduced through early detection of cancer and appropriate treatment and care of patients who develop cancer,” they say. “Many cancers have a high chance of cure if diagnosed early and treated appropriately.”
That’s encouraging, but a new study shows that only one in three Americans practice one simple and effective strategy to help prevent cancer. Read on to find out what it is.
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The term “cancer” refers to over 100 types of a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and may invade other tissues and organs, says the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Healthline reports that some general types of cancer include carcinoma (cancer which begins in the skin or tissue that lines other organs), sarcoma (a cancer of connective tissues such as bones and muscles, leukemia (cancer that manifests in the bone marrow and creates blood cells), and lymphoma and myeloma (cancers of the immune system).
Specific types of cancer, such breast or lung cancer, “are named for the area in which they begin and the type of cell they are made of, even if they spread to other parts of the body,” explains Healthline.
According to the United States Cancer Statistics (USCS), 1,752,735 new cancer cases were reported in the U.S. in 2019, and and 599,589 people died of the disease.
David Servan-Schreiber, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, described cancer as an epidemic in an article written for The New York Times. Servan-Schreiber wrote about the importance of certain lifestyle choices in potentially helping people avoid developing cancer, explaining that 40 percent of cancer cases may be prevented through diet and exercise, 30 percent by quitting smoking, and approximately 10 percent from reducing alcohol intake.
“Most people continue to view cancer as a form of genetic lottery when it clearly is not,” he wrote. WHO also concludes that “prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer.”
Of the more than 100 kinds of cancer, some forms are rare, and some are quite common. Contributing risk factors include may include age, gender, and racial or ethnic group, says WebMD.
“Prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers account for an estimated 43 percent of all cancers diagnosed in men in 2020,” the NCI reports. “For women, the three most common cancers are breast, lung, and colorectal, and they will account for an estimated 50 precent of all new cancer diagnoses in women in 2020.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common cancer worldwide. The site reports that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and that having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma. And yet a new study published by Advanced Dermatology shows that one in three people in the U.S. rarely wear sunscreen.
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“When it comes to using sunscreen or sunblock, the majority of Americans are not using products regularly,” the study reports. “Thirteen percent say they use sunscreen on their body most or all of the time, while 53 percent say they use it sometimes, and 34 percent rarely or never put on sunscreen.” In addition, “nearly 39 percent of men rarely or never use sunscreen, compared to 28 percent of women.”
There were various reasons people chose not to use sunscreen, including the weather (although harmful ultraviolet rays can penetrate clouds, and wearing sunscreen throughout the year is recommended). Others felt comfortable only wearing sunscreen on certain parts of their body, even though full and thorough application is the safest approach.
Several things can help boost the efficacy of sunscreen, including using the right product, and many of the people surveyed were unsure of how to choose. “Pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UV-A and UV-B rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15,” WebMD recommends.
Their experts recommend applying sunscreen thoroughly to all areas of your body that will be exposed to the sun at least a half hour before you go outside, and reapplying throughout the day.
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read