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Health & Exercise Forum

February is National Cancer Prevention Month

Feb 15, 2016
Dr. Meghan Haggerty

Dr. Meghan Haggerty

Guest Columnist: Meghan Haggerty, MD


Dr. Haggerty is a native of NEPA (Scott Township) and received her BS from The University of Scranton and her MD from Drexel University College of Medicine. She completed her residency in Radiation Oncology at Syracuse University New York (SUNY) Upstate. Currently, she practices at Northeast Radiation Oncology Center (NROC) and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at TCMC. She resides in Scranton with her husband Daniel and sons, Daniel and James.

Although many causes of cancer are not modifiable, such as age or genetics, lifestyle factors have been linked to a variety of malignancies. It is estimated that about one half of all cancers can be prevented.  Here are some suggestions to help decrease your chances of a cancer diagnosis.

  1. Quit smoking - Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of cancer.  It accounts for 30 percent of all cancer related deaths in the United States and adult smokers lose an average of 13 years of life due to this addiction.  Smoking accounts for 90% of all lung cancers, and has also been implicated as a causative factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, liver, stomach, cervix, kidney, colon, and bladder.  In addition, health complications from smoking frequently interfere with a patient’s ability to receive optimal medical treatment for their cancer. For example, surgery offers patients with very early stage lung cancer the best chance of cure, but may be too high risk for a patient with severely compromised lung function.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight - Certain forms of cancer occur with increased frequency in obese men and women.  Excess weight also increases the likelihood of dying from cancer.  One well understood way in which obesity causes cancer is seen in the case of uterine cancer.  Fat cells throughout the body produce estrogen.  In obese women, excessive amounts of estrogen lead to overgrowth of the inner lining of the uterus and increase the chances of developing cancer there.  In fact, obesity is thought to cause at least 50% of all uterine cancers.  Physical activity contributes to healthy weight and also is associated with a decreased risk for many types of cancer.  Healthy adults should engage in moderate to vigorous exercise 150 minutes per week. Adults with limited exercise capacity due to other health problems should stay as physically active as their condition allows. Even modest increases in exercise are associated with health benefits that reach far beyond cancer prevention.
  3. Eat a well balanced diet – The link between certain types of food and cancer risk has been extensively studied but for the most part, remains largely unconfirmed.  Some of the most consistent findings in published literature include the following:
    1. Processed and red meats slightly increase the risk of colorectal cancer. -A high intake of tomatoes decreases your prostate cancer risk.
    2. Calcium and vitamin D reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, but excessive amounts of calcium may increase your risk of prostate cancer. (Calcium recommendation to confer colorectal cancer protection without significantly increasing prostate cancer risk – 700mg/day)
    3. Folate decreases your risk of colon and breast cancer, especially in women who drink alcohol.
    4. The amount that each of the above listed items is thought to contribute to the development or prevention of cancer is, if anything, small.  Therefore, it is unnecessary that you avoid/overindulge in any one specific type of food.  Try to eat a well balanced diet and always keep in mind that excess calories from any source leads to weight gain, which as stated above, increases the risk of multiple cancers.
  4. Limit sun exposure and avoid tanning beds - Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, with over one million cases reported annually.  Melanoma accounts for about 5% of all skin cancer diagnoses but accounts for 75% of all skin cancer related deaths.  The primary cause of skin cancer is exposure from the sun.  The risk of cancer increases with cumulative sun exposure but what is most dangerous is intense exposures that result in blistering burns, especially in childhood.  Tanning beds should be completely avoided, as exposure yields a large increase in your risk of melanoma.  So limit the time you spend in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM. Use sun screen and wear protective clothing.
  5. Avoid cancer causing viruses – It is well established that certain viruses have the potential to cause cancer. Examples include human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B virus(HBV), hepatitis C virus(HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).  Vaccines are now available to prevent HPV and HBV infections. Transmission of other cancer causing viruses such as Hepatitis C and HIV is primarily thorough infected blood and body fluids.  Prevention can be accomplished with the practice of safe sex, avoidance of needle sharing, and continued screening of blood and organ donors.
  6. Prevention strategies, such as those listed above, focus on modifying environmental and lifestyle risk factors that promote cancer.  Implementation of these modifications will result in a decreased number of cancer diagnoses and deaths.  Another way to decrease cancer incidence and mortality is through screening programs.  Screening detects abnormalities before they are clinically apparent, allowing for intervention either before cancer develops or at an early stage, when treatment is most effective.  In an upcoming column, we will review screening recommendations for common types of cancer.

Visit your physician regularly and listen to your body.

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.