Guest Opinion Writer
Cancer is among our nation’s most devastating and costly diseases. I’ve watched my husband, Congressman John Garamendi, work tirelessly to confront this terrible affliction from a policy perspective. In addition to strong funding for medical research, he’s supported important proposals like the Improving Cancer Treatment Education Act, the Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act, and the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act. Alarmed by the rising rate of melanoma in young adults and its link to indoor tanning bed use, he fought for better oversight of sunlamp products and increased public education. Still, some of the most important work we’ve done in this arena are the conversations we’ve had with our children, family, and friends about how powerful it is when a person takes cancer prevention into their own hands.
What do you do to prevent cancer? February is National Cancer Prevention Month, and a great time to make or renew your commitment to put your health first. Take time to visit your health care professional to discuss your family and personal health history, which will help determine the right cancer screenings for you. Screening can detect cancer early, when it is most treatable, and in some cases stop cancer before it starts.
It is estimated that over 589,430 men and women will die in 2015 from cancer – including 58,180 Californians. More than half of cancer deaths – more than 250,000 – can be prevented by taking action that includes getting screened.
Here are a few of the most common screenings to discuss with your health care professional:
Women in their twenties and thirties should have a clinical breast exam done by their health care professional every three years. Women over age 40 should get a mammogram and have a clinical breast exam every year. Those who have a family history of breast cancer are at higher risk and may need to start screening earlier.
Women in their twenties should have a Pap test every three years. It is recommended that women ages 35 to 64 have a Pap and HPV (Human Papillomavirus) test together every five years. Certain circumstances may place you at a higher risk for cervical cancer and require more frequent screening, so have a conversation with your doctor about what’s right for you.
At 50, men should talk with their health care professional about whether or not getting screened for prostate cancer is right for them. Men may be at a higher risk if they have a family history of prostate cancer.
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States. Starting at age 50, it is recommended that men and women of average risk get screened. You may need to start screening earlier if you smoke, are overweight, or have a family history of cancer or colorectal polyps. Talk to your doctor about which screening test is right for you.
Starting at age 20, have your doctor check your skin annually. Examine your skin at home once a month and tell your health care professional about any changes. You are at a higher risk for skin cancer if you spend a lot of time in the sun or use tanning beds. Always use sunscreen with SPF of 30 or more when in the sun, and avoid the sun at its brightest times.
If you smoke, have a history of smoking, or have been regularly exposed to second-hand smoke, discuss with your doctor whether lung cancer screening is right for you.
Prevention is more than just screening—it’s about incorporating healthy eating and exercise tips into your everyday lifestyle. Here are some suggestions:
PATTI GARAMENDI is the wife of Representative John Garamendi and a member of Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Learn more about reducing your risk of cancer at preventcancer.org.