Be Proactive Not Reactive to Cancer Risks

Posted February 3rd, 2020

By:  Rebecca c. Modene Phd, RN – Manager of Clinical Underwriting

February is National Cancer Prevention Month, which coincides with World Cancer Day on February 4th. World Cancer Day started on Feb 4, 2000 by the Union for International Cancer control and its intent is to bring awareness to cancer from prevention to treatment worldwide (World Cancer Day, 2020).

Cancer Costs

The diagnosis of cancer shows no concern for age, nationality or gender.  In 2016, CNBC reported that cancer drug treatment costs are predicted to exceed $150 billion worldwide by 2020 (Tirrell, 2016).  Cancer again topped the Sun Life 2019 financial report on high claims and injectable drugs accounting for 26.8% of all stop loss reimbursements, with over $900 million in reimbursements (Sun Life, 2019).  The financial cost of cancer treatment is devastating, but as a registered nurse, I have also witnessed the emotional and spiritual toll that a cancer diagnosis brings to an individual and family members too many times to count. Too often individuals find themselves, wondering if there is anything they could have done to prevent the diagnosis or could have caught the cancer sooner? According to (2018) up to 50% of cancer diagnoses and cancer death are preventable.

Cancer Screenings are Available for Many Preventable Cancer Types  

Based on the American Cancer Society (2019) and the Centers for Disease and Prevention (2019) recommendations the following screening guide provides a quick resource for individuals with average cancer risk. However, it is never too early to engage a medical provider in cancer screening questions to assess individual cancer risks.


Screening Guide for the Most Preventable Cancers 

Cancer Type Screening Tool When to start screening** (assuming average cancer risk) 
Breast Clinical Breast Exam 



20-30 (at least every 3 years) 


40 – 49 Discuss with medical provider the risk and benefits of screening based on individual cancer risk.  


50 – 75 frequency based on medical provider’s recommendations.  


Cervical  Pap Test 21 and per medical providers recommendations 


Colorectal  Colonoscopy 45 and per medical provider recommendation after that 


Lung Low-dose CT scan 55for a heavy smoker or with a history of heavy smoking (1 pack a day for 30 years)  


Prostate Digital Rectal Exam 

Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) – blood test 

50 discuss with a medical provider the benefits/risks based on individual medical history 

**Discuss and follow a medical providers recommendations based on individual cancer risk, recommendations may change based on high cancer risk with family history, personal habits and environmental concerns taken into account that are specific to an individual (National Cancer Institute, 2019) 


Healthy Habits can Reduce Cancer Risks

In addition to screening at the appropriate times, healthy habits also help prevent many cancer types as well.

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Sleeping at night (7 hours recommended)
  • Eating a balanced diet, including fiber-rich foods to promote healthy digestion
  • Exercising 30 minutes a day at least five times a week
  • Do not smoke (or if you do quit immediately)
  • Limit alcoholic drinks to a max of 1 glass/ day for women and 2 glasses/ day men
  • Limit direct sun exposure and wear sunscreen and hats

Additionally, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine is recommended for both girls and boys starting at age 11-12 and if given before the age of 15, is a two-dose regimen compared to a three-dose regimen if given after 15 thru age 26 (American Cancer Society, 2018; Mayo Clinic, 2019).

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

In nursing, prevention is the key to health! A nurse will always recommend preventative treatment rather than reactive. Avoiding cancer screenings does not prevent a cancer diagnosis, it only decreases the number of options available after the diagnosis is made. Too often, for many of these preventable cancer types, once symptoms are noticed it has an advanced staging of the cancer. However, screening can locate and remove pre-cancerous cells well before any insidious diagnosis arises and can bring with it peace of mind.

“Live life when you have it. Life is a splendid gift – there is nothing small about it”

  • Florence Nightingale

Spread the word that February is National Cancer Prevention Month


#NationalCancerPreventionMonth #WorldCancerDay #IAmAndIWill




American Cancer Society. (2018). HPV vaccines.

American Cancer Society. (2019). Tips for getting a mammogram.

American Cancer Society. (2019). American cancer society recommendations for prostate cancer early detection.

Mayo Clinic. (2019). HPV vaccine: Who needs it, how it works.

National Cancer Institute. (2019). Cancer screening overview (PDQ) – Patient version.

Prevent Cancer Foundation (2018). A guide to prevent cancer.

Sun Life. (2019). 2019 Sun Life stop loss research report: High cost claims and injectable drug trends.

Tirrell, M.(2016). The world spent this much on cancer drugs last year.

World Cancer Day.(2020). Our Story.

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