Yesterday I read a post on the Blue Cure prostate cancer non-profit Facebook page of a mother beseeching prayers for her son, 35, who's having prostate cancer surgery. This woman, her son and her family are in my thoughts and prayers -- and I can relate, since I, too, suffered prostate cancer at age 35, when I was first diagnosed.
Clearly, prostate cancer is not just an "old man's" disease. In fact, last year I met a man in New York City who'd been diagnosed at age 29.
For those of us diagnosed with prostate cancer at such a young age, it begs the question: How does this happen?
In my case, I had had no symptoms and no family history of prostate cancer or any other cancer. I was having blood drawn to test my testosterone levels, but the lab inadvertently tested PSA (prostate specific antigen), which came back high. That led to a re-test, a biopsy and a diagnosis of a low-grade, low volume prostate cancer.
One of six men in America will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Also, one of two men and one of three women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer, and one of four Americans will die of cancer. That's an epidemic -- and it's shocking.
But that tide can be turned. According to the American Association for Cancer Research, more than half of all cancers are preventable via lifestyle habits. The problem may lie with our unwitting choices or our environment -- but so may the solutions, which is what makes me so hopeful.
The Blue Cure prostate cancer non-profit I founded is about that hope: that millions of American lives can be saved while waiting for a cure. How? By education, awareness and lifestyle changes, which can stop cancer before it starts.
"Cancer is the No. 1 cause of death in our world, and it is an indisputable fact that we can prevent the majority of cancer," says Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at The MD Anderson Cancer Center, "but little effort is being directed to true cancer prevention. It is the time for financial investment and scientific effort to focus on understanding how lifestyle contributes to cancer risk and in promoting necessary lifestyle changes early after the disease has been detected."
While I'm well aware of dietary and lifestyle means to boost that battle, I'm also aware that much more must be done. That includes getting more answers about how our environment, not just our lifestyle, can enter the mix. I'm talking about chemicals and pollution -- silent killers all around us in our everyday lives.
By the time of my prostate cancer diagnosis at age 35, I estimate I'd consumed 35,000 meals with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and larvicides. Even if we avoid high-fat, high-sugar or high-salt, we still can get such chemicals in our food -- chemicals that could kick cancer into gear when genetics don't dictate it arising.
So I worry. What about carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) in the polluted air we breathe? What about unregulated chemicals in our body care products, our water, our homes, our mattresses, our sofas, our dry cleaning and our lawns?
"We know that children are at special risk from environmental contaminants, but we don't have an adequate understanding of the threats ... What we do know is that our failure to act against cancer-promoting contamination is having a profound effect on our children. Children's and adolescents' cancer incidence rates have risen significantly over the past 15 years," writes Margaret I. Cuomo, M.D. in her book A World Without Cancer.
All these factors contribute to the cancer deaths of millions of Americans. Let's examine and assess these cancer-causing lifestyle and environmental issues and prevent cancer before it destroys any more lives.
That said, I continue to advocate research to find better life-extending treatments -- and, of course, to find a medical cancer cure.
But while those vital efforts continue, we can do more -- much more -- and right now. We can act -- preventively -- to help millions of Americans avoid getting cancer in the first place.
For more by Gabe Canales, click here.
For more on cancer, click here.