THE BLOG
08/28/2014 02:49 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

Guarding the Next Generation

Zurijeta via Getty Images

The way we live today can be impactful in a positive way to our own health, but more critically, to the health of the next generation.

This may be the only time in history when previous generations will be healthier than their children, because our children's generation are inheriting a world with more incidences of cancer -- not less. According to the World Health Organization, the next generation faces an increase of 57 percent in the incidences of cancer over the next 20 years.

Cancer prevention is complicated. It is too far-reaching to be siloed into specialty areas or interests. Plainly speaking, there is not just one switch to flip for cancer prevention. The work for cancer prevention does not operate the way a reactive medical model would -- for example, bandaging a wound or writing a prescription. That said, strategies for cancer prevention may include some medical practices such as a vaccine or a screening. Where and how people live also has a role in cancer prevention. For example, the town downstream from an industry may have a completely different set of preventable exposures than a commercial agricultural area where pesticide drift may be an issue for nearby residents. Preventable cancer risks vary, but can include everything from the type and the amount of certain foods and consumer goods to individuals who do not exercise, smoke or have options or choices for a healthy diet. While reducing preventable and unnecessary exposures linked with cancer risks is not a guarantee of a cancer-free life, leading experts and scientists have the understanding from evidenced-based science that many cancers can be prevented. 

Unfortunately, as a country, we are still dealing with issues we have been talking about since the 1950s.

One example is cigarette smoking. According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths, or one of every five deaths, each year.

Sixty years and millions of deaths later, cigarettes have somehow gotten a pass -- as evidenced by the fact that they are still legal. The private financial wins for the tobacco industry are as clear as the public losses seen by the social and economic burdens of cigarette smoking.

My question: Are we going to make allowances for all the moneymaking "cancer causers"? As with cigarettes, is it going to be business as usual for those carcinogenic chemicals found in some foods, personal care and home products -- and what about the over 30 million annual indoor tanners in the United States? Indoor tanning? Where this year alone melanoma, a deadly skin cancer will account for more than 76,000 cases?  

Will this conversation be repeated in another 60 years?

If the vision is to have healthy future generations, then it must be more than a vision. We need to all engage communities in protecting the generations that will follow us. If we do not make some significant changes not only are we leaving the next generation greater health burdens -- but also with the related financial hardships. The National Cancer Institute reports, "The cost of cancer in the year 2020 is projected to reach at least $158 billion, adding to the overall burden of increased incidences of cancer for the next generation."

As the founder of Lesscancer.org, I am committed to being a voice for guarding the next generation relative to cancer prevention. I am working not only on behalf of my family, but I am also working for yours. In my experience, more often than not, change comes from community engagement and sometimes from the quiet conversations around "how can we do this better?" -- or "how can we make a healthier product?" Community engagement is critical -- building relationships and connecting with people in relevant terms. One successful example has been the social networks, where we clearly have been able to turn education into action for a variety of issues.

If we truly are going to guard the next generation, we must engage communities to raise the bar on human health -- with a clear and specific focus on preventing cancer. If our children are going to have a healthier future, then cancer must not be an expected stage of life.

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