April is designated as National Cancer Control Month in the United States. It’s a federally endorsed observation, annually encouraged by a proclamation from the president. April is dedicated to raising awareness for cancer prevention and treatment throughout the country. Approved through a joint resolution by Congress in 1938, the yearly presidential announcement serves as a reminder to all Americans that awareness of the factors that cause or prevent cancer are crucial to the public health.
Starting with President Roosevelt through the current administration, each president has taken the time to draft a proclamation for Cancer Control Month. Each proclamation is different, but the overall focus stays the same.
In March 2018, President Trump acknowledged patients and families affected by cancer and thanked the oncology professionals who provide care. He wrote, “Together, we must take action to prevent and combat cancer, including maintaining healthy diets and weight and making physical activity a part of each day. Regular screenings and physicals, as well as knowledge of family medical history, are also crucial to catching cancers in earlier, more treatable stages.”
In 2016, President Obama encouraged focused efforts for smoking cessation, the importance of genetic technology, and improving personalized care. He said, “My administration is committed to reaching a future free from cancer in all its forms. Earlier this year, I created the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force. Chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, this effort aims to accelerate our progress toward prevention, treatment, and cures by putting ourselves on a path to achieving at least a decade's worth of advances in five years.”
Obama and Trump echoed George W. Bush’s sentiments from his 2008 statement, “All Americans can reduce their risk of developing cancer by following healthy eating habits, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco and excessive use of alcohol, and controlling their weight. By scheduling regular physicals, getting preventive health screenings, and being aware of their family history, individuals who do develop cancer can increase the likelihood that it will be discovered at an earlier and more treatable stage. I encourage all our citizens to talk to their doctors and learn more about preventive measures that can save lives.”
So what does cancer prevention really look like?
- Know your risk factors. Change the ones you can.
- Realize the power of genetic testing. Individuals who are concerned about cancer in their family should have their risk evaluated by a credentialed genetics professional. Those with known hereditary risk can consider risk-reducing surgery if available, more intensive screening, or surveillance.
- Get vaccinated. Cancer vaccinations work to prevent specific infectious diseases that cause or contribute to the development of cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several cancer vaccines, including those that protect young adults against certain strains of the human papillomavirus. The hepatitis B vaccine is a three-shot series given to children in an effort to prevent the virus from causing liver cancer.
- Get screened. Breast cancer screening includes yearly mammograms for women aged 40 and older. Cervical cancer screening includes Pap tests at least every three years for women aged 21 and older. Colorectal cancer screening includes yearly colonoscopies for men and women aged 50 and older. Men aged 50 and older should talk with their physician about prostate cancer screening.
- Implement lifestyle changes. Don’t use tobacco products. Consume alcohol in moderation. Eat a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit processed foods, foods with unhealthy fats, and excessive red meat. Engage in 30 minutes of intentional exercise daily. Avoid overexposure to ultraviolet rays, and limit sun exposure between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. Use sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher and wear protective clothing such as hats and sunglasses.
Although each presidential message doesn’t change much, it’s paramount that prevention begins with oncology nurses. Maintaining a healthy weight and diet, staying physically active, avoiding smoking and tanning—along with getting your cancer screenings—can greatly reduce your own risk for many types of cancer.
It all starts with becoming personally responsible for avoiding risk and increasing preventative measures. That’s when nurses can confidently inform others about potential cancer risks.