PORTSMOUTH – Everyone, in every walk of life, has been touched in some way by cancer. If you haven’t had cancer, you know someone who has, a family member, a friend or the person you work with every day.
What if cancer could be prevented? Would you take the necessary steps if you knew that by doing so you were greatly reducing the risk of cancer for yourself and your family?
There is a national movement gaining support that contends preventing cancer is possible, in 50 percent to 70 percent of cases. Dr. Tom Sherman, a state representative from Rye, is a board member of www.lesscancer.org and he believes it. He and his colleagues think all of the people in the United States should believe it, too.
Sherman, other board members, and founder Bill Couzens are taking their efforts to Washington, and across the nation. They want to educate people about the ways behavioral lifestyle changes and addressing environmental factors can greatly reduce the incidence of cancer.
The group recognizes that certain cancers have a genetic component and cannot be avoided, but they argue that the focus of cancer needs to embrace the concept of prevention as much as it does research and curative methods.
Bill Couzens, the founder of the organization, is not a medical person, but he was spurred to action by personal cancer losses. He said in the past 40 years, cancer has been approached through research and treatment. He works through the nation’s legislature to make the government aware that prevention is equally important.
“My sister died of cancer,” Couzens said. “I did not understand why there is such an increase in cancers over the years. It didn’t make sense to me, so I began looking to see if methods of prevention, including diet, lifestyle changes and environmental components, could beat the root cause of some cancers. I became convinced it was true, in more than half of cancer cases.”
Becoming convinced that about 70 percent of cancers were preventable, Couzens said he founded the foundation and is chasing what he calls the “low-hanging fruit.” He said they want to educate the public on prevention through things like smoking cessation, stopping indoor tanning and encouraging personal lifestyle changes, which he believes will make a difference.
Locally, Sherman works to raise awareness of prevention, a philosophy he says has long been part of the way he treats his own patients. He was also one of the primary people involved in exposing the recent hepatitis C cases discovered at Exeter Hospital.
“We make the push for a cure and of course my patients want to be cured,” Sherman said. “They also want their children not to face what they are facing. We need to be aware of what’s going on. Look at the recent water contamination cases at Pease. We have no idea yet what the outcome of that will be.”
New to the board of directors is lawyer Rob Bilott, who gained fame in the fight against pollution cases in West Virginia and Ohio, caused by Dupont. He championed a huge class action settlement for his clients and forced changes to the way industrial waste is handled.
The foundation is funded through donors, but Couzens said it will not accept any donations from corporations that contribute to the problem.
“It’s like the tobacco industry starting smoking cessation programs,” Couzens said. “It makes no sense. We are also non-partisan, nonpolitical. We want everyone on both sides of the Legislature to realize the importance of prevention.”
One of the biggest points for the foundation’s push for prevention is cost. Sherman said the cost of prevention versus the cost of treatment is astronomical.
“The grief and pain of cancer are real costs, but the fiscal cost is huge,” Sherman said. “The Legislature is beginning to see the real savings that can be seen here. Our goal is to lower the incidence of cancer, of course, but the savings to the medical side is tremendous.”
Couzens said they recognize that there is cost associated with living a healthy lifestyle. The reality is that good food costs more. So he said they want to see programs to help people in low-income settings have access to the nutrition and exercise they need. He said he wants to see literacy components included to educate Americans on why prevention is the better choice for everyone.
What do others who work daily in the field of oncology think about their concept?
Dr. Mary Chamberlin, an oncologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock hospital, said there is a definite link between lifestyle and malignancy, in cancer, in heart disease and in many other infectious conditions.
“There is overwhelming data to show the link between lifestyle and heart disease,” Chamberlin said. “Cancer has now overcome heart disease as the leading cause of death for people under the age of 85. I think I’d say maybe 50 percent can be preventable. Obesity is a risk we already acknowledge as the cause of many diseases. Exercise, healthy eating and of course not smoking are already recognized as helping the body avoid illness. Why not cancer? It is harder to point at which cancers it might help, but why not take care of yourself if there is even a small possibility, although I think it may be greater.”
Chamberlin said avoiding the sun, trans fats, alcohol and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as getting regular screenings all make sense in terms of avoiding cancer and other conditions.
“The environment is a concern and less in our control,” Chamberlin said. “But we can be aware of what is going on around us. You can control what you can and hope for the best. One of my goals has always been to have insurance companies pay for regular exercise programs. They do it for heart patients, why not for everyone, as part of primary care?”
Andrea Jackson specializes in oncology dietary needs at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital’s Cancer Center. She not only believes a healthy lifestyle can help avoid cancer, she believes it can help reduce the risk of reoccurrence in current cancer patients.
“I do presentations in addition to helping individual clients,” Jackson said. “We talk about which foods have protective qualities. Decreasing obesity has a known link to cancer. We know that some foods have definite anti-inflammatory components.”
Jackson said there is a sort of anti-inflammatory food pyramid.
“A general rule is that at least 50 percent of your plate should be fruits and vegetables,” Jackson said. “That’s because of the vital components in them to reduce inflammation. Think bright colors, high in flavonoids and try for three to four servings a day of fruit, four to five servings of vegetables, orange or green and leafy.”
Think whole foods, lentils and grains always and think processed foods never, said Jackson. Think low in saturated fats.
“Go to farmers markets,” she said. “Know where your food is coming from. Know how it’s prepared because you prepare it.”
It is a simple equation. Whether you buy into the concept, why wouldn’t you try it, asked Sherman. He said they will continue to bring their message to Washington, and to the medical communities and medical schools.
“We want prevention to be part of medical training for all schools involved,” Sherman said. “It should be standard training for all practitioners.”