World Cancer Day was designed to “raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment.” This year’s theme of World Cancer Day is it’s “Not beyond us.” While we are still learning and discovering things about cancer, there are several positive approaches in this fight that we can implement to help with prevention now and in the future. The 2015 campaign focuses around four key areas: choosing healthy lifestyles, delivering early detection, achieving treatment for all, and maximizing quality of life. All these factors are important, but choosing a healthy lifestyle by decreasing your exposure to “social and environmental risk factors,” is essential for prevention. One such risk factor is tobacco.
In 1964 the Surgeon General of the U.S. came out with its first report on the effects of tobacco on health. At that time the report “held cigarette smoking responsible for a 70% increase in the mortality rate of smokers over non-smokers.” And that “average smokers had a nine- to ten-fold risk of developing lung cancer compared to non-smokers; heavy smokers at least a twenty-fold risk.” Those Americans who believe smoking caused cancer went from 44% in 1958 to 78% a decade later.
Fifty years later the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report stated the link that was first reported in 1964 between smoking and cancer is stronger, as is the link between secondhand smoke and cancer. Between 1965 and 2014, the number of premature deaths caused by smoking-related cancers is estimated at 6,587,000. Lung cancer risks caused by exposure to secondhand smoke are estimated to be about 263,000. Fifteen cancers are now either directly or causally linked to smoking. According to the report, “smoking increases the risk of dying from cancer and other diseases in cancer patients and survivors.”
Some cancer risks factors, such as genetics, age, and immune system issues are simply out of our control. Keeping yourself healthy helps to reduce the risk, but if you are exposed to known toxins and carcinogens in your day-to-day environment, such as tobacco smoke where you live or work, it can undermine your healthy lifestyle. Safeguards put into place can help reduce that exposure, but it will take a coordinated efforts from different branches of government to put measures in place to protect everyone.
Addressing known risk factors, such as tobacco and other unhealthy lifestyles, is just one way that we can reduce cancer in the world.
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