When is it OK to put the words "good news" and "cancer" in the same sentence? Right now!
Overall cancer rates are falling - dropping about a half a percent annually for cancers of the breast, cervix, colon, lungs and prostate in recent years. This means your attempts to prevent it (with the HPV vaccine, aspirin, exercise, quitting tobacco, making better food choices and/or stress management) or to detect it earlier with mammography, colonoscopy and physical exams are working. Mortality rates are dropping by about 1.6 percent per year, too.
From advances that made headlines at the recent ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) conference, to growing certainty about the power of everyday choices to slap down risk (hint: skip salami, say "yes" to peanut butter made only from peanuts), we're slowly winning this war. Here are the most promising developments in treatment and prevention - we think they'll make a difference:
Wow-worthy advances: It was reported at the ASCO conference that some of the toughest cancers have been taking it on the chin lately. Lung cancer - the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and Canada - may become easier to treat as more long-term smokers quit and then sign up for yearly low-dose computed tomography screenings that detect it in early stages. (Ask your doctor about the CT scan if you're 55 to 74 and smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years or more.)
Next there's new evidence that vitamin D-3 (at prescription-strength doses) eases breast-cancer-treatment pain by a whopping 30 percent, making it easier to stick with therapy. Better treatments for cancers of the ovaries and esophagus also got plenty of attention and may have found their way into your oncologist's arsenal.
The power of prevention: Meanwhile, researchers from Washington University recently published this bold statement in a major medical journal: "More than half of the cancer occurring today is preventable by applying knowledge that we already have." In other words, your lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking, eating healthfully and working out regularly, make a big difference.
Keep your midsection slim: This alone can slash your risk for a fatal cancer by 20 percent. Keeping your weight within a healthy range and avoiding belly flab is especially effective against cancers of the breast (in women after menopause), colon, uterus, esophagus, kidneys and pancreas, and may trim back your odds for cancers of the gallbladder, liver, cervix, ovaries and prostate, too. The link may be that less belly fat means lower levels of cancer-fueling hormones such as insulin and estrogen.
Say "yes" to the fiber in whole grains and produce: Eating beans three times a week cuts risk for precancerous colon polyps 33 percent; brown rice just once a week drops it 40 percent. Green veggies and dried fruit help, too, supplying vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that may help your body fight back. And, of course, eating more produce and whole grains is a great way to keep your weight in check.
Love a meat alternative: Avoiding red meat could cut your overall cancer risk by 40 percent. Substituting fish (we love salmon and trout) could specifically lower your risk for colon cancer by 40 percent. Meanwhile, foods like real peanut butter slash lung cancer risk in nonsmokers by 55 percent.
Walk for 30 minutes today. Repeat tomorrow: Thirty to 60 minutes of exercise a day can lower your odds for cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, lungs and uterus, not to mention reduce stress. It also helps slash your risk for heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and dementia.
Ask about aspirin: Taking 162 milligrams of aspirin daily (sip a glass of warm water before and after) may prevent several types of cancer, such as breast, prostate and colon. Two major meta-studies found that it reduces the risk of cancers spreading by 35 percent to 40 percent. Discuss it with your doctor first to be sure this step is smart for you.
© 2012 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.