Going through a cancer diagnosis can be a deeply personal experience for each patient and their loved ones, affecting many of the things closest to them – from relationships to work arrangements and more. Yet this life-altering experience has touched numerous individuals and their families across the world.

Though deaths from cancer have decreased over the last four decades due to better prevention, earlier detection and more effective treatments, many people delayed or skipped preventive care amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the lasting effect of which is not yet fully known. The American Cancer Society expects almost 2 million new cancer cases to be identified in the United States in 2023. They also anticipate that there will be 609,820 cancer-related deaths in the U.S. in the year ahead – or the equivalent of 1,670 deaths per day. People must reengage in preventive care to reduce their cancer risks and avoid rolling back the progress we’ve made against cancer mortality. [1][2][3]

Here’s how you can use preventive services to protect you and your family from cancer.

Cancer: A Physical, Emotional and Financial Burden
Cancer is the second largest cause of death in the United States, with historically marginalized communities often experiencing the highest casualty rates due to disparities in access to quality care. On top of the physical threat of cancer, many cancer patients and their families experience a variety of mental health challenges while grappling with their diagnosis and their changing circumstances. The economic burden of cancer treatment also continues to grow, as the population ages and as cancer survival rates increase. The estimated medical cost of cancer in the United States was US $ 208.9 billion in 2020, up from $190.2 billion in 2015. [4][5][6][7]

It’s not enough to wait for a diagnosis and hope it can be treated effectively. Proactive efforts are essential to protect yourself from the physical, emotional and financial burden of cancer.

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We Can All Prioritize Prevention
The common phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a simple, everyday example of the value of prevention as the first level of care. While it may not actually be an apple that you need, preventive care is focused on taking action to maintain and protect your health before problems arise or before medical treatment is needed. Many preventive services (such as vaccinations and screenings) can be obtained at no or low cost – saving you money while increasing your chances of a healthy, longer life.

Prevention doesn’t only focus on stopping health problems from occurring; it also means finding and treating them early when problems do arise. Good preventive care involves staying ahead of disease progression even after a diagnosis by being proactive about treatment and maintaining your overall health. Connecting with a care manager can help you identify care resources following a diagnosis to prevent further spread of the disease and monitor your holistic health.

Cancer Prevention: Change your Lifestyle and Your Chances
Though our genetics play a large role in terms of cancer, this does not mean that our health is predetermined. Over 40% of cancer cases—and almost 50% of cancer deaths—can be traced back to behaviors or causes that are modifiable. These include lifestyle habits such as not getting enough exercise, not maintaining a healthy weight, smoking or too much direct sun exposure. [8]

Changing your lifestyle habits can decrease your risk of developing cancer. Studies show that for people who quit smoking, after 10-15 years they have a 50% lower chance of developing lung cancer than those who still smoke. Not drinking or drinking in moderation can also help reduce your risk. Higher alcohol consumption is associated with increased likelihood of developing six different kinds of cancer, and obesity or being overweight is linked to increased risk for 13 cancers. [9][10][11]

There are also preventive services that can lower your chances of developing cancer or catch a case early, increasing the chances of survival. For example, getting an HPV vaccination as a pre-teen prevents HPV infections that can lead to cervical cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also recommends regular screenings for breast, cervical and colon cancers and for lung cancers for those at increased risk. For those with a family history of certain cancers, genetic testing is recommended and preventive medication can sometimes be prescribed for those at high risk.[12][13][14]

Early detection is correlated with positive health outcomes. For example, the five-year survival rate for women with breast cancer compared to women without breast cancer is 99% if the cancer is detected while it is still localized (within the breast) versus just 29% for when the cancer is distant (spread to far-away parts of the body).

Staying Proactive
Prevention is important at every stage – from helping you maintain a healthy lifestyle before problems arise, to detecting cancer early and proactively managing treatment or care plans that prevent further problems. Check-ins on your holistic health are more convenient with omnichannel care, meaning you can access guidance online or in-person through a variety of virtual and in-person access points. For example, through the CVS Health/Aetna Transform Oncology Care (TOC) program, those who recently received a cancer diagnosis can be guided through the care and treatment process by our care management team, helping them stay ahead of the disease and prevent further problems.

Being proactive about your health at every stage of life can reduce your likelihood of cancer – and it’s never too late to start. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits and utilizing preventive services can help keep you and your family safe from the life-changing experience of cancer.

[1] Siegel RL, Miller KD, Wagle NS, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2023. CA Cancer J Clin. 2023 Jan;73(1):17-48. doi: 10.3322/caac.21763. PMID: 36633525.
[2] Rodriguez S. COVID-19 Takes a Toll on Patient Access to Preventive Cancer Screenings. PatientEngagementHIT – March 04, 2022.
[3] Cancer Facts & Figures; American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia. Online. Last accessed on March 29, 2023
[4] Cancer Stat Facts: Cancer Disparities. National Cancer Institute. Online. Last accessed on March 29, 2023
[5] Emotional, Mental Health, and Mood Changes. American Cancer Society (ACS). Online. Last accessed on March 29, 2023
[6] Mariotto AB, Enewold L, Zhao J, Zeruto CA, Yabroff KR. Medical Care Costs Associated with Cancer Survivorship in the United States. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2020 Jul;29(7):1304-1312. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-19-1534. Epub 2020 Jun 10. PMID: 32522832; PMCID: PMC9514601.
[7] Financial Burden of Cancer Care. National Cancer Institute. April 2022. Online. Last accesses on March 29, 2023.
[8] National Cancer Prevention Month. American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Online. Last Accessed on March 29, 2023.
[9] Quitting Smoking. National Cancer Institute. April 2022. Online. Last accesses on march 29, 2023
[10] Alcohol and Cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Online. Last accesses on Match 29, 2023
[11] Obesity and Cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Online. Last accesses on Match 29, 2023
[12] Vaccines / Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Online. Last accesses on Match 29, 2023
[13] Screening Tests. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Online. Last accesses on Match 29, 2023
[14] Deciding Whether to Use Medicine to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk. Breast cancer risk and Prevention. American Cancer Society (ACS). Online. Last accesses on Match 29, 2023
[15] Survival Rates for Breast Cancer. Understanding A Breast Cancer Diagnosis.American Cancer Society. Online. Last accesses on Match 29, 2023
[16] Pabst M. How CVS Health® and Aetna® are transforming cancer care. Aetna. Online. Last accesses on Match 29, 2023

Featured image by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash.

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