This picture of me is from October, 2012, when I was getting prepped to have my thyroid cancer surgery. You can see the black line that my doctor drew with a pen to get me ready. My nervous smile belied the huge amount of anxiety and fear I was feeling, and just looking at the photo brings back feelings of vulnerability and sadness.
Of course, I’m hugely grateful that my disease was caught early enough to have a successful outcome and I’ve had clear follow-up monitoring for over three years now, but cancer is still a very serious problem in our society, with almost 40% of Americans experiencing a diagnosis in his or her lifetime (1).
The more we learn and talk about cancer prevention, I believe the better off we are in turning this public health disaster around. For example, there are basic things that we can do to get ahead of cancer that scientific studies have shown to have value. Some of the ideas that work for me include:
- Eating whole foods, with plenty of vegetables
- Getting enough sleep
- Managing stress
- Optimizing vitamin and mineral levels, including vitamin D
- Getting moderate exercise, with strength and flexibility training
- Doing appropriate screening tests
Another prevention strategy that has come onto my radar is DNA screening and genetic counseling. I was recently approached by a company called Counsyl that offers an Inherited Cancer Screen for cancers that have been shown to have a strong genetic component (full disclosure: this is a sponsored by post; all opinions are my own). I’ll be honest that I’m on the fence when it comes to taking advantage of this type of risk assessment for me. On the one hand, my life was possibly saved because my cancer was caught early by a standard ultrasound. On the other hand, I still have a lot of fear around that experience. Note: the services offered by Counsyl are not part of standard screening guidelines and are not used for diagnosis; the tests assess risk based on DNA and can be part of an early detection program based on individual risk and results. Please consult your healthcare professional to determine if it makes sense for you to consider this analysis.
In fact, my husband was kind enough to take a new head shot for my media kit recently (just after I got my hair done, woot!), and I noticed how much the scar on my neck has faded. At some point, I might consider doing this specialized genetic testing to evaluate my future cancer risk, but, for now, I’m enjoying being on the other side of the disease and using my prevention strategies. As part of my research for this post, though, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the genetic counselors at Counsyl. Some of the topics we discussed included:
- why should I consider genetic testing if none of my immediate family members have had cancers on the screening test?
- what happens if I take the test and discover I have one or more of the genetic markers for cancer?
- what kinds of support or protection do I have from a health insurance and privacy perspective in dealing with any genetic markers?
The counselor I spoke with was very patient and considerate in answering my questions and easing my fears (if you’re interested in learning more, you can also speak with a genetic counselor arranged through the company website; this video is also very informational). I finished the conversation with a positive feeling, especially knowing that for the people who do get a positive result from the Counsyl Inherited Cancer Screen, they can be empowered to work with their doctor to build a risk reduction plan through early detection.
I’d love to read your thoughts on this. Do you know your risk factors and what prevention strategies are you taking to get ahead of cancer?
- National Cancer Institute, “SEER Stat Fact Sheets: All Cancer Sites.” Retrieved from http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/all.html on 2/26/16.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Counsyl. The opinions and text are all mine.