News last week that women diagnosed with breast cancer are failing to give up smoking or drinking is something that's inspired me to put finger to keyboard and get a few issues off my chest.
Image: scottchan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This blog is a balancing act: balancing our messages around how to prevent cancer with the wider issues, such as dealing with cancer diagnosis and treatment. You may or may not know that Cut your cancer risk is a project set up by the cancer prevention team at Cancer Council Victoria. But prevention is just one aspect of the organisation. The work that goes on at Cancer Council is vastly varied, from providing cancer information and support to people diagnosed with cancer and their families, to epidemiological and behavioural research.
The overriding principle that ties the organisation together is that we're all working towards lessening the burden of cancer in the community.
It is this overarching link, and particularly the connection between cancer support and prevention, which gives me mixed feelings about this research. It's like Bubble tea - in that in theory it sounds great and fits in with things I like (tea and bubbles) but in reality is this really how I want all the ingredients to go down? This could be the worst analogy I've ever come up with but bear with me please... In theory (because I work in cancer prevention) I should be pleased that word is getting into the public domain about the cancer risks associated with smoking and alcohol, but I wonder whether criticising women dealing with cancer for failing to quit smoking and for drinking more than recommended, is the right way to go?
Being faced with something as frightening as cancer, must be well, very, very frightening, and I can't be more articulate than that because I'm fortunate enough not to be in those shoes.
Yes, leading a healthy lifestyle and doing whatever you can to reduce your cancer risk (even if you are going through cancer treatment) is the ideal. The lifestyle factors that influence your risk levels (healthy diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, being SunSmart, screening and check-ups, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking) remain the same regardless of whether you've had cancer or not.
I guess my main worry is isolating people that are diagnosed with cancer, or who have lost people to cancer, or people who have recovered from cancer. The most interesting point that comes out of the research from my perspective is around stress - the study found that many of the women in the study are under the misconception that stress is the main cause of their cancer. However, there is no evidence that shows that stress causes cancer.
The bottom line is that cancer prevention shouldn't be about singling people out - it's not about telling you to stop smoking but working on a population-basis to help reduce cancer rates by changing the environment.
If I'm Bubble tea - how do you feel about this issue? And please remember, if you would like to talk to someone about cancer, call our Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 and you can talk to one of our friendly cancer nurses.
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