Op-ed: Let’s practice cancer prevention each and every day


What do you do to prevent cancer? February is National Cancer Prevention Month, and a great time to make or renew your commitment to put your health first. Take time to visit your health care professional and discuss your family and personal health history and which cancer screenings are right for you. Screening can detect cancer early, when it is most treatable, and in some cases stop cancer before it starts.

It is estimated that over 589,430 men and women will die in 2015 from cancer — including 34,600 New Yorkers. More than half of cancer deaths — more than 250,000 — can be prevented by taking action that includes getting screened.

Here are a few of the most common screenings to discuss with your health care professional:

• Breast cancer – mammogram
Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam done by your health care professional every three years. Women over age 40 should get a mammogram and have a clinical breast exam every year. Those who have a family history of breast cancer are at higher risk and may need to start screening earlier.

• Cervical cancer – Pap smear
Women in their 20s should have a Pap test every three years. It is recommended that women ages 35-64 have a Pap and HPV (Human Papillomavirus) test together every five years. If you have HPV, smoke, use birth control pills or have had multiple sexual partners, you may be at a higher risk and may need to be screened more often.

• Prostate cancer – Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test
At 50, men should talk with their health care professional about whether or not getting screened for prostate cancer is right for you. Men may be at a higher risk if they have a family history of prostate cancer.

• Colon cancer – colonoscopy or stool-based tests
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States. Starting at age 50, it is recommended that men and women of average risk get screened. You may need to start screening earlier if you have a family history of cancer or colorectal polyps, if you smoke or if you are overweight. Talk to your doctor about which screening test is right for you.

• Skin cancer – skin exam
Starting at age 20, have your doctor check your skin annually. Examine your skin at home once a month and tell your health care professional about any changes. You are at a higher risk for skin cancer if you spend a lot of time in the sun or use tanning beds. Always use sunscreen with SPF of 30 or more when in the sun, and avoid the sun at its brightest times.

• Lung cancer – low-dose spiral CT scan
If you smoke or if you have quit smoking, discuss with your doctor whether lung cancer screening is right for you. Men and women are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer if they smoke (or have smoked) or if they have been exposed to second-hand smoke.

• Oral cancer – head and neck examination
As a periodontist and fellow health care professional, I would like to update you on oral cancer. It’s two times as common in men as in women. Tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption are important risk factors. However, one in four patients diagnosed with oral cancer will present with no risk factor. Thus, it’s important to see your dentist regularly for oral cancer screenings. Start reducing your risk to by incorporating these healthy eating and exercise tips into your everyday lifestyle.

Dr. Wayne Kye is the spouse of U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) and a member of Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation.