Before driving cross-country a few weeks ago, I happened to see that Amazon now offers free audio narration with many of their Kindle books that are part of their Kindle Unlimited program. With a 30-day free trial (and only $9.99/mo if I wished to continue), I signed up and have enjoyed listening to books this month as I drive and do my daily walks.
The first book I tried out was simply mind-blowing—Dr. Margaret Cuomo’s 2012 book, A World Without Cancer. Dr. Cuomo is a radiologist, and sister of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Dr. David Chan of Stanford wrote an excellent article (“Where Do the Millions in Cancer Research Dollars Go Every Year?”) summarizing the staggering dilemma highlighted in Dr. Cuomo’s book. Since the start of President Nixon’s “War on Cancer” in the early 1970’s, and despite the billions of dollars spent on researching treatments and cures, the incident and death rates of cancer (per SEER) are slightly higher today than they were in the mid 1970s--
As the only developed nation in the world to lack any kind of price regulation controls over drug and treatment costs (and a nation of aging baby boomers), direct cancer treatment costs are skyrocketing in the U.S. to simply unsustainable levels (projecting to grow to $158 billion in 2020—over double the 2004 cost of $70 billion).
Dr. Cuomo’s book walks us through the “business as usual” challenges of the current cancer “industry”—the challenges of unregulated pricing of new drug treatments, challenges with drugs being approved (and paid for by insurance/Medicare) before results are fully understood (and “break-thrus” hailed when initially released rarely being realized), and challenges with our “silo’d” and duplicative research approaches (rather than collaborative and cumulative).
While our “War on Cancer” has led to a few great treatment success stories, and some modest incremental improvement in survival times, the war is still far from won.
However, Dr. Cuomo highlights a better approach—rather than such a lopsided allocation towards treatment research, and expensive new drug therapies that do little more to improve survival over than cost-effective generics they replace, she advocates a more balanced approach that promotes prevention as much as treatment research.
Currently, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the various cancer charities that follow its lead, prioritize the overwhelming percentage of their funding towards treatment research—70% (nearly $1.2 billion) according to NCI’s 2013 budget fact book.
The NCI currently only spends 6.2% of their budget ($232 million) on prevention, even while it states that “Much of the progress against cancer in recent decades has stemmed from successes in the areas of prevention and control.”
According to the research studies cited in Dr. Cuomo’s book, known lifestyle changes and existing vaccines could prevent 50% of all new cancer cases—50%!!!! How? By stopping smoking, losing weight & exercising, and (to a lesser extent) vaccinating ourselves against Hepatitis B (to prevent liver cancer), and HPV (to prevent cervical, vulvar, vaginal, anal, and penile cancers).
In the daily Facebook and Twitter posts this month for #GynCAN, I’ve come across a couple of truly incredible infographic statistics related to cancer prevention.
I knew that being overweight or obese put me at greater risk for diabetes and heart disease, but I had no idea that excess weight and lack of exercise also put me at higher risk for endometrial, breast, colon, throat, stomach, and other obesity-driven cancers.
My type of uterine cancer tumor was caused/fed by excess estrogen in my body. The estrogen was not being created by my ovaries, but rather, by my excess body fat (and excessive time sitting rather than moving). Why did I never know that this was a risk for endometrial, breast, ovarian, and other estrogen-fueled cancers?
I also learned this month that nearly all cervical, and half of vaginal/vulvar cancers are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
We have an HPV screening test, and for the last 10 years, have had a vaccine available to prevent most strains of HPV (and therefore reduce risk to these cancers). And yet--- 40% of U.S. girls and 60% of boys are still unvaccinated!
Clearly, Dr. Cuomo is right-- we should be investing much, MUCH more in prevention and awareness in this country. Not only will it save and extend lives, but it’s the one thing we as a society can do right here, right now to significantly reduce our overall healthcare costs.
In the midst of a growing obesity epidemic in the U.S., I think we as individuals must finally start talking about (and taking full individual responsibility for) our unhealthy bodies. Yes, the government could change their farm bill subsidies to make fruits and vegetables more affordable (and corn/soy-based junk food less so). Yes, the government could change their funding priorities to focus more on disease prevention and wellness than subsidizing expensive healthcare treatments and drug therapies that provide minimal gain.
But there is no reason for us to wait for the government to act!
Each one of us who smokes or is overweight/inactive needs to finally acknowledge the elephant in the room. We have no one else to blame but ourselves for many of these cancers (and other health conditions).
According to the CDC, today:
- 64% of adults are overweight or obese
- Only 22% of adults each vegetables more than once a day
- Only 20% meet daily aerobic and muscle strengthening guidelines
It’s time to get moving and start earning our way back to better health!
Since my cancer treatment ended, I’ve lost 14 pounds, and this month will have walked100 miles. I plan to keep at this until I finally get to my “healthy weight” BMI range.
Maybe it’s too little, too late. Maybe the toxic sludge surrounding my waistline (from decades of eating unpronounceable ingredients) can never be undone. Maybe it’s already too late to avoid another cancer fight in my future. But I’m going to give it my best shot to improve and maintain my good health for as long as I possibly can.
If you’re in a similar situation, I hope you will join me and do the same!