Cancer. It’s scary to think about. Most of us know someone who has battled the disease or even died of it.
The world of medicine has made remarkable strides in cutting cancer rates and improving treatments. But cancer remains the second-leading cause of death in the U.S., with 1.9 million new cases, and nearly 610,00 deaths, expected in 2022.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a half-dozen things to know about cancer.
When experts talk about cancers being preventable, they are looking at those cancers that can be linked to something in the environment or something that happened – exposure-wise – to increase cancer risk. Up to 50 percent of cancers can be blamed on factors such as:
One way to think of this is to look at your body as a copy machine. Every time you damage one of your cells, you are essentially hitting the “copy” button to make a replacement. And every replacement has a tiny chance of a mutation that could lead to cancer. To keep from pressing that copy button too often, cut back on those harmful activities.
At the same time, you need to do the things – exercise and eating nutritious food – that will bolster your body’s ability to find and root out those imperfect copies before they have a chance to create tumors.
Seemingly every day, we learn more about what makes a cancer a cancer. Each of them is unique. We’re at the point now where doctors are looking at the genetic profiles of tumors and tailoring treatments to target them. It’s called precision medicine. The number of subtypes is going to keep growing as more is learned about these diseases and their genetics.
Genetics is one of the ways to explain how two people can be exposed to the same risk factors, with only one of them developing cancer. This is an area where our understanding of cancer is growing significantly. Certainly not all cancers have genetic links, but more often, genetic testing is recommended for the families of people diagnosed with particular cancers.
Current guidelines recommend genetic testing for anyone with a first- or second-degree family member diagnosed with:
Testing also is recommended if:
As of 2019, there were an estimated 16.9 million cancer survivors in this country. The number is projected to top 22 million by 2030. That’s particularly encouraging when you consider the number of new cancer cases continues to drop.
That means we’re getting better both at early detection and treating cancers once they’ve been diagnosed.
There have been significant strides in fighting many different cancers, with mortality rates falling across the world. But one of the more perplexing cancer stories has been the gradual increase in colon cancer cases among people under the age of 50.
It’s a trend that started in the 1990s, and doctors aren’t quite sure why. There are number of working theories, including a heavy reliance on processed foods, lower activity levels and a general increase in body weight.
As a result, it’s now recommended that people start screening for colon cancer at the age of 45.
There are three ways to look at this one. For men, the most common is prostate cancer, with nearly 250,000 new cases each year. For women, it’s breast cancer, with nearly 285,000 new cases each year. And as an aside, breast cancer is more common in the left breast than the right.
Looking at it from a general population perspective, the most common cancers affecting both genders are lung cancer (235,000 cases annually) and colon cancer (150,000 cases a year), according to the National Cancer Institute.
Lung cancer also accounts for the highest number of deaths, at more than 130,000 annually.
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