Q: With cancer rates are on the rise, especially the ones that affect women, what can I do to protect myself? -- Michelle S., Walnut Creek, California
A: Cancer rates among women are increasing. In 2016, women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with 1,685,210 new cancer cases resulting in 595,690 cancer deaths. Globally, it’s predicted cancer deaths in women will increase 57 percent by 2030.
But YOU can reduce your risk, according to a report from the American Cancer Society and Merck KGaA, called “The Global Burden of Cancer in Women.” Experts think that 33 to more than 50 percent of cancers that affect women can be prevented.
The cancers that have the greatest mortality risk for women are lung, breast, colorectal and, internationally, cervical cancer. But if you don’t smoke and don’t drink more than one glass of wine a day, maintain a healthy weight, exercise consistently and get regular screening tests, you’ll slash your risk for these cancers. Also, the HPV vaccine for girls and boys protects against cervical cancer, as well as cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, throat and anus. And eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits lowers your cancer risk; the polyphenols they contain prevent cell damage that leads to cancer.
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If you do develop a precancerous condition or one of these cancers, early detection can save your life.
Lung cancer: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends those between ages 55 and 80 who smoked a pack a day for 30 years ask their doctor about screening.
Breast cancer: USPSTF recommends women ages 50 to 74 get a mammogram every two years. You and your doc can decide if you want screening earlier.
Colorectal cancer: Everyone 50 to 75 should be screened for colorectal cancer, usually by having a colonoscopy once every 10 years. Removing precancerous (and cancerous) polyps saves countless lives!
Q: Are chemicals in plastics really dangerous for your health? If so, how can I eliminate those risks? -- Kathy G., St. Louis
A: You can’t look around your office, home or fridge without seeing plastic. But what you might not see is the risk that hormone disruptors such as phthalates, BPA and BPS in plastics -- as well as personal-care products, pesticides and those thermal receipts you get at stores, restaurants and gas stations -- pose to YOUR health. If you did, you would then see the need, as Swedish researchers put it, “for a strong regulatory framework that proactively identifies chemical hazards before they are widely used, and the use of safer alternatives.”
A recent study from NYU Langone Medical Center concluded that gradual but constant exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals increases rates of male infertility, birth defects, endometriosis, obesity, diabetes and some cancers and premature death from heart disease and stroke. It also doubles your risk of dementia, diminishes IQ scores and contributes to escalating rates of autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study also estimates that health-care costs and lost earnings from daily exposure to those chemicals (as well as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, found in flame retardants, furniture and packaging) exceeds $340 billion annually! You can add to that, $200 billion in dementia-related costs in the U.S. alone.
How to Reduce Your Exposure
We know you can’t get plastics, phthalates and pesticides completely out of your life, but you can reduce your exposure.
1. Never microwave food that comes in plastic containers (even if they’re labeled as safe!) and hand-wash plastic food-storage containers.
2. Avoid plastic containers with the recycle numbers 3, 6 or 7 on the bottom.
4. Use fragrance-free cosmetics and personal-care products -- phthalates are commonly used in fragrances.
5. Don’t handle thermal paper receipts; they’re loaded with BPA. If you do, wash your hands with soap and water.
6. Opt for glass containers whenever possible.
7. Petition your representatives for tough legislation to test, control and eliminate hazardous chemicals in your food supply and environment.