February 4 is World Cancer Day

The C-word is scary. We picture hospitals, hair loss, debilitating treatments, and the worst-case scenario.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of mortality in the United States. The odds are good that someone in your family or someone you know has fought cancer. While there is a hereditary component to some cancers — as our practitioner Dr. Lisa Savage says, “choose your parents wisely ;)” — your genes don’t always have the final say. 

You can’t change your family tree, but you can make lifestyle decisions that can improve your chances of staying healthy. Here are the best tips from our in-house medical experts:

Don’t smoke or use tobacco

This is a biggie. Tobacco kills 8 million people worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization, and is the leading cause of preventable death in the US.

The chemicals in cigarette smoke cause all forms of cancer, not just lung cancer. Seriously: avoid all tobacco products and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Need tips to quit smoking during menopause? We have you covered.

 

Get enough sleep

Did you know there’s a link between quality of sleep and cancer? Waking more than twice a night ups your breast cancer risk by 21%. Poor sleep quality can lead to weight gain and diabetes, which itself is a cancer risk. 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for adults in midlife. To maximize shut-eye

  • invest in a noise machine
  • aim to go to sleep and wake up within the same two-hour window each day
  • cut back on screens and other bright lights for two hours before bedtime
  • use your bed only for sleep and sex
  • indulge in a quality mattress and bedding
  • avoid evening caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
  • don't eat after 8 p.m.

And beware: too much sleep may be associated with some types of cancer as well!

Maintain an ideal body weight

Nearly 70% of Americans are considered overweight (having a body mass index, or BMI, of 25 to 29.9) or obese (a BMI of 30 to 39.9).

You’re gorgeous at any size, but being overweight is linked to a number of different types of cancer. Researchers theorize that obesity causes inflammation, excess estrogen in fat tissue, or the body’s ability to regulate insulin, all of which can lead to increased cancer risk. 

Maintaining an ideal body weight is easier said than done but can be an important step in prevention. If you’re stuck, try the mindful approach to weight management at menopause.

Eat right

The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends a diet high in vegetables, fruit, and grains and low in sugar. A plant-based diet full of anti-inflammatory foods, low glycemic starches, and healthy fats is even better. Try the Clean Plate Club 2.0.

Intermittent fasting (consuming all of your daily calories in a specific 8-10 hour window) is another option to reduce your cancer risk. 

Drink alcohol in moderation

Alcohol is woven into the fabric of our society but regular consumption increases your risk of cancer. The more you drink over time, the more likely you are to develop an alcohol-related cancer, like liver, esophageal, head, mouth, breast, or colorectal cancer. 

Our Dr. Savage advises drinking seven drinks a week or less (though not in one sitting: binge drinking is also dangerous!) Read: how to stop smart and about other foods to avoid in menopause.

 

Support for self-care during menopause is here.

 

Protect your skin

We all know that the sun is damaging to our skin but may not realize that our risk of skin cancer increases in menopause. 

To keep your skin safe, stay in the shade, wear hats, keep your arms and legs covered, apply sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 or higher and protects against UVA and UVB rays, wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays, and avoid tanning.

A note on sunscreen: applying two SPF 15 products will not add up to a single SPF 30. And, yes, you can burn through a car window.

If you have new spots or growths, your dermatologist should run tests for you to rule out cancer and remove anything risky. Talk to your doctor about how often you should come for screening.

Stay physically active 

The American Association for Cancer Research suggests that the combination of exercise and preventing weight gain is important for preventing cancer and increasing overall survival after a diagnosis.

We know it’s hard to drag yourself to the gym after a long day or fit a workout into everything else you have going on, but make fitness a priority for your health. 

Read: How to really get fit in midlife.

HPV vaccine & HBV vaccine

“In women’s health care, our biggest concern is cervical cancer,” Dr. Connie Mao, director of Harborview Women’s Dysplasia Clinic in Seattle, told us in an interview. 

HPV (human papilloma virus) most commonly causes cervical cancer but can also lead to cancers of the vulva, anus, and mouth. More than 12,000 people in the US were diagnosed with cancer of the cervix in 2016. 

The vaccine can kill 80-85% of these viruses. While the prime target for the vaccine is boys and ages 9-12, all sexually active adults should consider it, though the more sexual partners you have had in your life, the more likely you are to have been exposed already.

Hepatitis is another virus with a link to cancer. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer in the US, while people with chronic hepatitis B have a 25% to 40% risk of developing liver cancer in their lifetime. While there’s currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, more than half of all cases of liver cancer can be prevented with the hepatitis B vaccine. 

Talk to your doctor if you haven’t been vaccinated and want to schedule your shots.

Combination birth control for the prevention of ovarian, endometrial, and colon cancer

You can still get pregnant until your periods stop, but the good news is that The Pill can help in preventing both unintended pregnancies and certain forms of cancer. "Most people don't know birth control prevents cancer," says Gennev telemedicine physician Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi. 

While birth control pills with estrogen and progesterone may raise the risk of breast and cervical cancers, people who have ever used oral contraceptives lower their ovarian cancer risk by 30% to 50%, endometrial cancer risk by at least 30%, and colorectal cancer risk by 15-20%. Talk to your doctor, or one of ours, to determine if this is right for you.

 

Understand where are you in your menopause journey by taking the Gennev Menopause Assessment now.

 

Screening

Screening won’t prevent cancer, but it can catch it early and improve your outcome. 

 

Many cancers are preventable, and the prognosis can be improved by knowing what to look out for.

 

A wealth of experience is available on the Gennev Community Forums. You are always invited to join, ready, gain insights, and yes, share.

 

Shannon Perry

February 4, 2020
Director of Programming & Media

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