Startling new research has determined that half of Canadians can be expected to contract cancer in their lifetime. Men have a slightly higher risk than women. While the study was focused on Canada it matches methodologies and trends that are also observed in other developed nations like the United States. The news is made even more shocking because in 2016 the Canadian Cancer Society pegged the number at 2 in 5. Methodologies certainly differed but it’s important to pay attention. There are a variety of reasons why this may happen. People are living longer and statistically cancer is a disease that emerges with age. But other factors such as a more sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diets contribute to the increased risk as well.
There is a greater chance of surviving cancer today than it was 50 years ago. The overall rates of survival today are 60% compared to 25% in the 1940s. A better understanding of the causes of cancer and how it develops have led to more effective prevention and screening campaigns. Generally, the earlier cancer is caught, the more successful the treatment is likely to be. We now know that at least 50% of cancers develop in large part as a result of lifestyle choices. Eating better and getting regular exercise go a long way to prevent the risk. Further, our medical intervention is improving all the time as well. New therapies including drugs and surgery help improve the survival rate of cancer as well.
Cancer research is taking exciting new turns. Immunotherapy, using the body’s natural defenses against illnesses, is a promising new field. Vaccines use active or inactive viruses to train the body’s immune system to spot intruders and kill them. Immunotherapy works in a similar way. The body is trained to recognize cancer cells as invaders and kill them. The problem is the ability of cancer cells to disguise themselves as healthy cells and evade destruction. Research is currently focusing on how to make them visible to the immune system by defeating their disguise. This, in many cases, calls for customized treatments tailored to one person.
While 50% is much higher than anyone expected or thought, the good news is that, once again, half of cancers are preventable. A decline in the rate of smoking is directly linked to a decline in the rates of lung cancer. If western societies started being more active and eating healthier, we would see a corresponding drop in the prevalence of most preventable cancers. So if you needed a wakeup call to change your lifestyle and make better choices, perhaps this is it. Remember that while this study was done in Canada, its findings hold true for all western countries. So let’s start making the lifestyle changes needed to put cancer in its place.