Although there is no known cure for cancer, we can still take an active role in increasing the awareness of cancer, collectively taking a stand worldwide to reach out and do whatever we can to reduce the global burden of cancer. That is the premise of World Cancer Day, which is being recognized February 4, this Saturday. This year's theme is We can. I can. This doesn't mean that we only work harder to take care of our own selves by making lifestyle changes, such as what we do with our diet or other healthy choices we make in our lives to do whatever we can to help stay cancer-free; it is taking an active role in contributing to efforts to improve survival rates and look for opportunities to provide a better quality of life to those unfortunate enough to be suffering with cancer. Working together, even a few people, let alone millions committed to a cause, can effect significant changes to help others in need. It's a mindset that goes beyond just the many forms of cancer to include conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), as described by worldcancerday.org. Over our lifetimes, cancer will affect most of us at some point, whether it be ourselves, an immediate family member, another close relative, or a good friend or someone with whom we work. The World Cancer Declaration involves an agreement between public health and cancer experts to use their knowledge and influence to join with other groups of advocates, cancer-control organizations, employers and even the media to help persuade governments to join in and use whatever resources are available to implement policies and programs to help in cancer awareness, availability of treatments and assistance for those afflicted. Cancer risk factors include smoking, poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. Smoking, for instance, still ranks as the No. 1 risk factor for cancer, with tobacco use accounting for five million deaths a year worldwide—which is 22 percent of all cancer-related deaths. Just taking action to increase public awareness on the hazards of tobacco use—that includes smokeless tobacco for chewing—can perhaps influence thousands of tobacco users to stop, and for that they also need guidance and support. Alcohol use also has been linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer. Here are some strategies identified by World Cancer Day organizers to get involved and influence those in a position, and with the reach and resources, to make a difference in easing the burden of cancer. Keep in mind this is as much an individual mission as it is a call to action for groups:
- Continue working with schools—much is already being done in the U.S., but it's a work in progress—to make sure that safe and nutritious meals and snacks are being provided to students, along with ample time carved out for exercise and related activity outside the classroom.
- Taking the taboo out of everyday life when it comes to cancer. Many people, and that even includes some countries and cultures, consider the topic off-limits. Along with that, they might even keep cancer patients at arm's length, withdrawing emotional as well as lifestyle support. Discrimination and isolation can be an issue. It is important to address such attitudes, and that takes spreading awareness of cancer, to include eradicating the cancer stigma and countering misinformation. Workplace leaders, for instance, are in a position to make a positive difference in this regard.
- Striving to make a difference in making affordable, quality, accessible care an imperative in society, something that entails bridging political divides. Even a few people committed to the cause can be a starting point. By uniting around common goals, governments can be made more accountable.
- Set an example by taking steps to cut down on our own risk of cancer, starting with a conscious, dedicated effort to make better choices of food and drink, to get a proper amount of exercise as well as sleep, and to see our personal physician regularly. This includes getting a physical annually and for those 50 and over to get a colonoscopy (and, as needed, more every few years as dictated by your doctor). For women, and starting well before the age of 50, annual mammograms are a must.
- Social media can play a huge positive role in increasing awareness of things such as knowing the early signs and symptoms of various types of cancer. Granted, most people using Facebook, for instance, might want to avoid posting things that will frighten away or alienate friends, but at least maintaining social support networks and openly talking about cancer, at suitable times, is an important part of coping with cancer.
- Working with others to be prepared to help anyone with cancer who might otherwise be facing this dreadful disease alone.