Preventing Cancer
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By Mitzi A. Baker

Preventing Cancer

What does it really mean? (And how can we do it?)

By Mitzi A. Baker


The best possible cancer treatment is never getting it in the first place—but what does it actually mean to “prevent” cancer? To find out, CR turned to Carolyn R. (“Bo”) Aldigé, the founder and president of the Prevent Cancer Foundation (www.preventcancer.org).

CR: First, what inspired you to form an organization dedicated to preventing cancer?
B.A.: I started the Prevent Cancer Foundation in 1985 in memory of my father, who died of head and neck cancer one year earlier. He was a World War II hero who survived the crash of his B-26, but he was powerless over cancer. And his was very preventable, but his lifestyle choices put him at high risk. He was a lifelong smoker and loved Southern-style high-fat and fried foods. After his death, the more I read about the emerging science in cancer prevention, the more I wanted to do something about it.

CR: And what do you hope to accomplish?
B.A.: To put ourselves out of business because cancer has gone the way of polio. But I’m realistic enough to know that isn’t going to happen tomorrow or next year.

CR: So how does someone “prevent” cancer?
B.A.: By reminding themselves daily to “Get Smart. Get Fit. Get Checked.”

CR: What do you mean by that?
B.A.: “Get Smart” means don’t use tobacco in any form. Follow guidelines for safe sun exposure. Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all. Practice safer sex. “Get Fit” means eat a diet that is low in saturated and trans fats and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Exercise moderately several times a week. Maintain a healthy weight. “Get Checked” means follow cancer-screening guidelines and get vaccinated against certain viruses known to cause cancer.

CR: What is your biggest challenge in encouraging people to prevent cancer?
B.A.: Getting people to embrace our messages and change their behavior accordingly!

CR: Is there any recommendation that is particularly hard for people to adopt?
B.A.: I think it’s not to use tobacco in any form. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances there is.

CR: With all this advice, how do you keep people from blaming themselves if they develop cancer?
B.A.: The key is not suggesting they deserved it because of choices that put them at higher risk. They still deserve our compassion and access to the highest quality care available. And sometimes someone “does everything right” and still develops cancer.

CR: Your website mentions that only about 5 percent of cancers are hereditary. Does that mean that a person has control over the other 95 percent?
B.A.: If everyone followed the recommendations based on what we know right now, we could reduce cancer incidence by as much as 70 percent.

CR: Why only 70 percent?
B.A.: Unfortunately we don’t know enough about what the risk factors are for certain kinds of cancer, such as the blood cancers, to have as much control as we do over the common epithelial cancers, such as lung, colon, breast, prostate and skin.

CR: There is emerging evidence that what matters most about diet is what you ate as a child. Does this give your organization extra incentive to try to reach out to parents?
B.A.:
Absolutely. They are one of our key target audiences. But it is never too late to make changes. You can reduce your risk of developing cancer no matter how old you are.

CR: Is there one bottom-line message you wish you could get across to everyone?
B.A.:
Get smart. Get fit. Get checked. It’s easy to remember, and cancer advocates can all convey this message to their constituents. Remember, having had cancer once puts someone at higher risk for developing another kind of cancer.