The Emperor of All Maladies, a PBS documentary by Ken Burns based on the Pulitzer prize-winning book of the same name, is promoted as a "biography" of cancer. However, it is more accurately described as a history of cancer treatment. And while I was hopeful there would be some relevant content on cancer prevention, it was no surprise that the focus was primarily on a cancer treatment model. The movie attracted sponsors such as David Koch, Cancer Treatment Centers of America and Genentech, to name a few.
Such prosperous sponsors are not involved in our organization's work for Less Cancer. While I honor the work of all those seeking better treatments and hope for a cure, a sharp devil's advocate might wonder why these companies and individuals would support the work for prevention. What would they have to gain? Hmmm, less cancer, more profits? Hardly. Despite prevention making new inroads, "prevention" has been typically the unsexy "sensible shoes" of the cancer conversation.
Recently, in speaking to an educator about a curriculum for health care workers on prevention, it came up that, while the curriculums are improving on that particular front, it is not necessarily a priority for all professors and students. Just as an example, some students may have more of an interest in procedural experiences such as intubating a patient or something a little more exciting. I get it: the white coats, the stethoscopes, the monitors and all the things that come with saving lives. They are great visuals for the important work being done on the treatment side of medicine. While not everyone is going to have an interest in prevention, today more than ever it is becoming a growing responsibility of the health care team to work to help the patient prevent disease, including cancer.
It never fails to entertain me when someone says to me, "What is the organization's product for the work for prevention?"
One person said, "You're not selling CAT scans, selling Band-Aids or supplying medical services."
As if preventing premature deaths and saving lives was not enough? Now we need something to plug in, light up and beep?
Supplying information and strategies for communities including lawmakers does save lives. Time and time again, while we work to lead in communities with awareness and education, we do work to educate lawmakers on cancer risks. We are very diligent in making sure the evidence-based science and medicine are available and understandable to all.
Our work addresses the growing evidence that points to the fact that more than 50 percent of all cancers are preventable. Our future on the cancer horizon is not less but rather more, which is why it is so critical we do all we can to put a speed bump in front of the steadily increasing incidences of cancer.
For years, one of our organization's issues has been indoor tanning, and today we are starting to see sensible inroads in protecting the public. Of late we collaborated with the Highland School in Warrenton, Virginia, for the "Tan Less, Shine More" program.
Most recently in New Hampshire, legislators have banned indoor tanning to minors (under age 18), and it did not come easily, with opposition pounding the virtual drums with chants of "parental rights." This type of bait and switch can happen when there is a diversion from the evidence-based science that is so crystal clear on the harms of tanning beds and their association with deadly cancers.
Today we are also seeing this type of legislation in New York as well, protecting minors from tanning beds, and in 2014 New York did a comprehensive report on skin cancer.
Our job as an organization is keeping the public focused and updated on the evidence-based science. For some, the steps of New Hampshire legislators to protect minors are met with "nanny state" snappy rhetoric as if there were some ulterior motive beyond saving lives. The reality, though, is if we as a society are not moved to protect our young from the harmful effects of tanning beds, what are we willing to do? Is cancer not enough of a reason to want to protect our children? Do we really have to divide these issues? And if we're not moved for the sake of humanity, how about for the sake of economics? Not to mention, as Americans, do we not have a duty to the welfare of all Americans, especially our children?
The work for cancer prevention is critical. As an organization, we have been the founders of National Cancer Prevention Day and the National Cancer Prevention Day Panel in the effort to prevent cancer. Next week there will be the first-ever statewide Cancer Prevention Summit in New York. Less Cancer board member Margaret I. Cuomo, M.D., an unwavering advocate for prevention, was inspired by National Cancer Prevention Day to encourage the New York State Department of Health to establish the Summit, which will challenge all New Yorkers to take action to prevent cancer. The program is available on webcast beginning on May 20. Dr. Cuomo has inspired a model that can and should be adopted by other states. Click here for link.
These are "starts," but we need everyone on board to push back on this wicked disease on all fronts.
The work for Less Cancer has not been easy. Unlike so many organizations with big funding from tobacco, chemical or pharmaceutical companies, we have gone a different route, ensuring we do the best work possible without conflict. As an organization, we have stretched all resources to ensure we bring you, your community and legislators the best information, policies and practices in preventing premature deaths and saving lives.
The demands are great, and as a nation we must all be engaged in the process for less cancer. We can make new inroads on this disease so that the next generation will be looking forward to days of no cancer as opposed to more cancer.