Five ways to not get cancer

August 12, 2013

pps

Jonathan Sackier
Jonathan Sackier

  • Surgeon, Clinical Professor 
  • 30 years of healthcare experience 
  • Author of the “Fly Well” column in AOPA PILOT 
  • Flying since 15 years old, owns a Columbia 400 

The "big C." Cancer, named for the crab-like appearance of its perfidious growth, its claws snipping away at healthy tissue. Many associate it with catastrophe. The final curtain. One word striking fear into the hearts of people the world over. Over the past few decades great strides have been made in finding ever more successful treatments for many types of malignant disease, but Ben Franklin's weighty quotation "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is bang on target. So let's look at five ways to not get cancer.

To continue reading, please log in or join AOPA now to have access to these exclusive expert resources.

  1. Tobacco: This one is easy; stay the heck away. Tobacco is poison. Do not smoke cigarettes or pipes and celebrate by not having a cigar. Chewing tobacco does not cause lung cancer. No, just head and neck cancer which usually leads to an ignominious end. Stay away from people who smoke. Beg your loved ones not to smoke. Let tobacco become as archaic as navigation by ADF/NDB (OK, I know, some of you Luddites dont like new-fangled GPS!).
  2. Know your tree: Take time to jot down your family history, taking care to capture any hint that close relatives had a brush with cancer. This could provide additional stimulus to take lifestyle changes seriously and adopt a regimen of screening according to your risk profile. Recently, fellow aviator Angelina Jolie bravely and very publicly talked about having a double mastectomy due to her cancer risk. Similarly, actor Pierce Brosnan who certainly piloted aircraft in his role as James Bond, lost his wife, and subsequently daughter, to cancer. This stuff matters.
  3. Garbage in, garbage out: The fuel you put in your tanks is important, right? You would not dream of putting Jet A into a reciprocating engine—or water. Why not take the same care with what you put into your tank? Eat more vegetables and fruit, cut the fat and sugar, and eat less red meat and more fish. Increase dietary fiber such that you have two effortless poops per day. Cut alcohol intake. Ensure you are eating a balanced diet: This and the guidance above have been linked to a decrease in cancer rates. Be wary of "miracle cures" or splashy ads for various supplements in the popular press; there is no quick fix to limit cancer risk or increase lifespan. You have to do the hard work, changing your behavior patterns. Of course, some supplements are beneficial for certain people in certain circumstances. You take advice from your mechanic; do yourself a favor and talk to your doctor.
  4. Exercise: We have become a nation of sloths. If you exercise already, good on you but if you don't, get up and move. Combined with a good diet, exercise can help lead to weight loss and better general health. Obesity is a killer—if the heart attack or stroke does not get you, the cancer will. So pound the streets and shed those pounds.
  5. Screening: Based on learnings from your family history and discussions with your doctor about your risk profile a personalized screening program should be developed and instituted. Everyone should perform a skin check, looking out for new or changing moles. Colonoscopy makes sense—contracting colon cancer is almost totally avoidable with this modality. Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) tests for prostate or mammography for breast cancer need careful consideration but again, discuss this with your personal physician. 

There are many other steps you can take, but these first five will hopefully ensure that the only time you think about the clawed-one is when you are perusing a menu at a nice restaurant. Just go easy on the melted butter!  

To learn more about the program or to enroll, visit www.aopa.org/pps.

Jonathan Sackier is a surgeon, aircraft owner, and AOPA Pilot Protection Services expert.

Jonathan Sackier