February 4, 2013 is World Cancer Day. This is a day when the world’s health organizations join together to tell the world that cancer is a global health priority. According to the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), which organizes this event, 7.6 million lives are lost each year to cancer. That’s more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
This year’s primary message is to dispel the following myths of cancer:
1. Cancer is just a health issue. It’s more than that…it has far-reaching socioeconomic and human rights implications.
2. Cancer is a disease for the rich, elderly and those in developed countries. Cancer is a global epidemic affecting all classes and races, with a majority of the burden placed upon developing countries.
3. Cancer is a death sentence. Cancers that were once considered can now be cured or are highly treatable. We have a way to goes, but we’ve also come a long way.
4. Cancer is my fate. A third of the most common cancers can be prevented with certain lifestyle choices.
Of course, we who attempt to raise awareness for melanoma have our own set of myths to dispel:
1. Tanning doesn’t cause skin cancer. Several studies link all tanning to basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Studies have also shown that tanning bed use increases the risk of melanoma by 75%.
2. You need to tan to get the proper dose of Vitamin D. While sunlight offers a healthy dose of Vitamin D, it takes less than 20 minutes of exposure to get a daily dose. Also, most dermatologists will recommend meeting your Vitamin D needs with proper food (milk, yogurt, salmon, etc) or Vitamin D supplements. I have been taking supplements for a couple of years now and my Vitamin D levels have been great!
3. Getting a base tan offers sun protection. A base tan is a sign of skin damage that has already occurred. It is not safer.
4. Skin cancer can be simply cut out. Even simple cut-outs can be disfiguring, and in the case of melanoma (and squamous cell), it can spread to other parts of the body if even one cell is missed. And those who had melanoma removed have a 30% chance of it reemerging.
My life was touched by melanoma when my brother was diagnosed with it and eventually died from it. My life was touched by cancer before that when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer after a life-time of smoking, and died in 2005. I personally had a scare as I was suspected of having prostate cancer several years ago. I had to undergo two very painful biopsies until I was finally deemed as being clear of cancer. Cancer has touched my life as I’m sure it has done yours.
Make the proper choices in life to prevent cancer. If you smoke…stop! If you tan…stop! Make sure to discuss possible screenings with your doctor and specific specialists. My wife gets her mammogram every year. We all get our skin checked every year. And this week I’ll be having my first colonoscopy to be screened for colon cancer. It may not always be a comfortable experience, but it could be a life-saving experience.
There will be nothing “happy” about World Cancer Day until cancer is no longer around to have a day. So “celebrate” by asking yourself if you’re doing all you can to prevent and defeat cancer…all cancer.