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Facts around cancer

The Prairie Doc 20 years
On Call with the Prairie Doc®

This interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

By Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D.

Cancer is a broad term which encompasses many different diseases, and each type of cancer has different patterns and tendencies. But at its core, cancer means a group of cells which is growing uncontrollably, due to one or multiple genetic mutations.

Cancer prevention is a topic we see frequently in the media, and it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Truthfully, many cancers occur at random, and even modern science does not yield any clues as to how to prevent such cancers. Supplements and products marketed as “cancer prevention” do not have sound medical data, and I would advise skepticism of any product purporting to “cleanse” or “detox.” However, there are environmental factors that increase the risk of many cancers. Let’s focus on those.

Smoking increases the risk of cancer – not just lung, but also bladder, kidney, cervical, and numerous other types of malignant tumors. Additionally, chewing tobacco significantly increases the risk of head and neck cancers. Quitting tobacco is the most impactful lifestyle change one can make to reduce their lifetime cancer risk.

Sun protection is essential for reducing the risk of most skin cancers, including melanoma and the more common basal or squamous cell cancers. Experts recommend sun avoidance, protective clothing, and use of sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater when out in the sun.

Human papilloma virus is a common virus which increases risk of cervical, penile, and many head and neck cancers. We have highly effective vaccines which can prevent this cancer-causing virus. The first vaccine is recommended at age 11 or 12, as it is most effective when administered in adolescence; but the vaccines are now FDA approved up to age 45.

Other components of a healthy lifestyle including a healthy diet, exercise, and lowering alcohol intake, can also reduce your lifetime cancer risk. Most importantly, have a yearly conversation with your primary care provider about age-appropriate cancer screening. In rare cases, a strong family history of cancer may warrant genetic counseling, as some inherited abnormalities merit more aggressive cancer screening. Thus, providing a thorough family history to your care provider is crucial too.

In summary, though many cancers appear out of sheer bad luck, there are many things one can do to reduce overall risk of cancer. None of those things include spending money on products touted as “anti-oxidant,” “detoxifying,” or “cleansing.” So, my advice: save your money and focus on the data-driven recommendations.

Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices internal medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, broadcast on SDPB and streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.

Chris is a producer for In the Moment.
Lori Walsh is the host and senior producer of In the Moment.