You can’t drink a ton of liquor and be surprised that you got drunk any more than you can wade in water and expect not to get wet. Life just doesn’t work that way. Many have heard the saying, “Let the choices you make today be the choices you can live with tomorrow.” It’s actually a favorite of mine. Though it is mainly thought of in school or work settings, I believe it is applicable to life in general. It is specifically applicable in matters of health. No, you can’t prevent every illness or disease. No, you can’t prevent every mishap or accident. You can however avoid or stop toxic behaviors.
Let’s start with one of the most obvious ones. Smoking. Smoking is not only linked to cancer but it absolutely causes it. The first type of cancer likely to come to mind related to smoking is probably lung cancer. You are right. Smoking definitely causes lung cancer. However, oral cancer, head and neck cancer and many others are also linked to smoking. As a hematology and oncology nurse practitioner, I encourage patients to stop smoking. It’s never too late to stop. In healthcare, we call smoking a modifiable risk factor for cancer. This means that you can change it.
Another decision that can affect tomorrow is alcohol consumption. Not only can excessive alcohol consumption cause cirrhosis and liver failure. Alcohol use, in general, can increase the risk of getting cancer including cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, colon and liver. Alcohol is best consumed in moderation and not excessively. Of course not drinking any alcohol is the best risk reduction of all.
Healthy eating and physical activity can go hand in hand. Often times these are less obvious modifiable risk factors and sometimes they are harder to modify depending on the food available to you. However, you should try to eat as healthy as you can. The more fresh fruits and vegetables you eat, the better. The less red meat and processed food, the better. Light to moderate physical activity is better than no activity at all. The benefits are priceless. Not only does healthy eating and physical activity decrease your risk of cancer, but they also decrease your risk of other health conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. I know some of you are thinking, “What about the hereditary component?” Yes, there could be a hereditary (genetic factors) component involved but sometimes the sole involvement is you and your choices.
Unprotected sex. No, unprotected sex in and of itself does not cause cancer BUT it could expose you to sexually transmitted infections (more on that another time). However, unprotected sex can expose you to viruses that may cause cancer. For example, human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to cervical cancer and head and neck cancer. If you are not in a monogamous relationship, be sure to use protection during sex. I should also advise that oral sex counts too. Viruses such as HPV can absolutely be spread through oral sex. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C which are both linked to liver cancer can be spread through unprotected sex among other ways. (There are vaccines available for some viruses.)
Protecting your skin today protects your skin tomorrow. Tanning beds and excessive sun exposure may cause cancer. It is best to avoid tanning beds and use a safer alternative such as spray tan. It is advised to use sunscreen when out in the sun and reapply as indicated on the instructions.
This post is not all-encompassing of the decisions that could impact your future. It should give you some idea of things you can control to positively impact your health and your life. Be the best you, you can be in all areas of your life, especially regarding health. Men (women too), as we wrap up Men’s Health Month, I challenge you to make better decisions today. Decisions of today can become the consequences of tomorrow.
Are you up to date on your health screenings? What small changes can you make today that could have a positive impact on your health?