By Monica Malik MD, DNB. It is estimated that almost 50% of all cancers are related to unhealthy choices like tobacco, alcohol, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating habits, unsafe sex and other modifiable environmental factors. Obesity is already on its way to overtake tobacco as the leading cause of cancer. Simply stated, more than half of all cancers can easily be prevented by ‘choosing healthy lives.’ Unhealthy choices are often tempting, convenient, more ‘glamorous’ and kindled by propaganda. They need to be tackled with equally effective counter strategies. Anyone who has ever tried to change a bad habit or keep a resolve knows it’s easier said than done. Empowerment, reinforcement and providing sustained motivation and support are the keys to success. While the choice needs to be implemented at the level of the individual, efforts towards facilitating this need to involve diverse stakeholders including the Government, healthcare organizations, legislators, educational institutes, scientific community and industry.
Promoting breastfeeding to expectant mothers; educating children about healthy eating, importance of exercise and dangers of tobacco and alcohol; and providing information to adolescents on safe sexual practices are a few areas where the seeds of healthy behavior can be sowed early, during the formative years. However, the effectiveness of health education will be limited unless supported by a strong infrastructure to facilitate adoption of healthy choices. These include legislative control of tobacco, alcohol, tanning beds, etc., and making healthy food available at schools and workplaces, providing opportunities to engage in sports and exercise, controlling environmental pollution and reducing stress.
In commemoration of World Cancer Day (WCD), this blog is part of a series of posts by ASCO International Affairs Committee members on four areas being highlighted as part of WCD awareness efforts. Additional posts include:
Investing in health is more cost-effective than dealing with the consequences of disease. In the current era of sky rocketing health care costs, we can ill-afford the burden of unhealthy habits. Humans are the unique species with the power to make informed choices and the responsibility of choosing wisely resides with every individual. Health care professionals have the additional role of empowering others to adopt healthy lifestyles. This is also the safest and the most effective means of disease prevention. A strong commitment and sustained efforts on the part of the individual and all other stakeholders can truly make a big difference. It is definitely ‘Not Beyond Us’ to conceive, develop and nurture a healthcare system with a comprehensive focus on health preservation.
Monica Malik, MD, DNB, is Associate Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology at Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India.