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What you need to outsmart cancer

Good news! Deaths from heart disease, the leading cause of death in America, are declining. Can you guess what’s currently in second place and getting ready to take the lead? Cancer.

Medical providers are getting much better at diagnosing cancer and treatments continue to evolve and improve as well. People who receive a cancer diagnosis have an increasingly better chance of survival. But the best way to outsmart cancer is to reduce your risk and hopefully, prevent it in the first place. Learn what signs to look for as well as the screenings you’ll need to catch it in its earliest stages when the odds of beating it are the best.

Lifestyle changes for cancer prevention

Risk reduction or cancer-prevention primarily points to one thing – lifestyle. Our daily habits and the way we live can dictate what our cells do, or don’t do. The simplest things we can do are to eat a healthy diet, get a little exercise, and don’t put known cancer-causing things in your body. Let’s break it down in more detail.

The critical lifestyle changes are fairly easy to remember (even if they feel a little more difficult to accomplish at first).

  • Don’t use tobacco
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Be physically active and stick to a healthy weight
  • Use sun protection (yes, even in Southeast Alaska)
  • Get immunizations for viral infections
  • Skip risky behaviors
  • See your medical provider regularly

Avoiding tobacco is probably the most important thing we can do to avoid cancer. Tobacco – smoking or chewing – is the cause of several types of cancers that include oral and throat cancers, lung, pancreas, bladder, cervix, and kidney cancer. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. If you do, quit. If you need help quitting, please speak to your medical provider about medications, products, or strategies that can help. You can also call Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line at 1800 QUIT NOW / 1-800-784-8669.

Healthy eating goes a long way

Healthy eating is probably something that needs very little explanation. We’ve heard all this before; eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other plant-based foods. Stay away from refined sugar, processed meat, and animal fat. Alcohol? Only in moderation – it is linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, and liver cancer. The more you drink and the longer you’ve been drinking, the greater your chance of getting cancer.

As long as you’re eating healthy, add 30 minutes of physical activity a day and make sure you’re maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your cancer risk and the risk for other health issues you’d rather not have.

We live in a rain forest, so it seems counterintuitive to talk about sun protection, but you still need to use sunscreen! Also, stay out of the tanning bed, wear clothes that cover as much skin as possible, take advantage of the shade when you can, and avoid the midday sun (even when it’s cloudy). Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and also one of the most preventable.

Immunizations help reduce risk

If you haven’t heard the news, certain immunizations prevent certain cancers and are widely available for those that should receive them. One is a vaccine for Hepatitis B and can help prevent liver cancer. The other is for Human papillomavirus (HPV) and can prevent cervical, other genital cancers, and squamous cell cancers of the head and neck. Everyone won’t require these vaccines. For those in certain age groups or with certain risk factors, however, they should be on your list of things to discuss with your medical provider for you or a loved one.

Risk factors or risky behaviors include not practicing safe sex and sharing needles. Both of those behaviors can lead to infections such as HIV, HPV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, which can then lead to cancer.

Finally, make sure you’re receiving regular medical care. Have a yearly physical. See your medical provider if you’re ill or notice something isn’t quite right or appears to be an early sign of cancer. You have the power to advocate for your health, but remember, no one can do it for you.

Health resources for you

If you are uninsured or feel like you cannot afford to see a medical provider, the SEARHC facilities in the following communities are classified as HRSA Community Health Centers and provide medical services on a sliding fee schedule, based on income

  • Klukwan
  • Haines
  • Kake
  • Angoon
  • Hoonah
  • Pelican
  • Tenakee
  • Klawock
  • Hydaburg
  • Thorne Bay
  • Kasaan

There are also income-based sliding fee options in Juneau and Sitka. In Juneau, you can schedule an appointment at the Front Street Clinic, (907) 364-4565 or visit, frontstreetchc.org. Those living in Sitka can see a provider at the SMC Express Care Clinic, 907.966.XPRS (9777) or visit, sitkaexpress.com.

Another option to consider is checking with your local Public Health office.

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The SEARHC Crisis Help Line, 1.877.294.0074, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to residents of Southeast Alaska.