For the past 100 years, the American Cancer Society (ACS) has been helping promote the best science to help control cancer. In support of that goal, the ACS has supported 47 scientists who went on to receive the Nobel Prize.
But equally important for each person, the public and professional education programs of the ACS have resulted in popularization and public acceptance of cancer screening. The first accomplishment was making pap smears a standard of care for women, which has reduced the pain, suffering, and mortality from cervical cancer. Next came mammograms which (after the early 1970s when women had breast cancer diagnosed at more advanced stages, requiring mastectomy) have resulted today in diagnosis of breast cancer at early stages when less intensive lumpectomy plus radiation therapy have shown just as high a cure rate and much better cosmetic result than mastectomy (see my blog on Shirley Temple on The Huffington Post).
And now ACS volunteers are working to make life-saving colonoscopy more widely used to prevent colon cancer. As advised by the ACS, doctors are being encouraged to discuss PSA screening with their patients to consider who may be helped by earlier diagnosis of prostate cancer. Patients are also being advised to discuss CT scanning for lung cancer in patients who have been heavy smokers. With the preventive care benefits of the Affordable Care Act, many cancer screening and prevention services are now covered by insurance.
What has been the result of this century of donations, policy development, research, and education? The cancer mortality rate is now 20 percent lower, and cancer care has turned advanced cancers from an immediate death sentence into a chronic condition.
More patients are surviving cancer today. And the quality of their lives is in most instances wonderful. At the ACS ball in Beverly Hills on May 17, 2014, I had the joy of seeing cancer survivors, many of them ACS volunteers, giving back their time to help others.
And to be impressed with how vibrant the lives of cancer survivors can be, just look at Jaclyn Smith. Jaclyn, best remembered as one of Charlie's Angels, survived breast cancer in 2002, when she was diagnosed early with the help of mammography, and then treated with a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. As she told me with a broad smile and brimming with pride, her life is full and she enjoys designing her lines of apparel, home collection and skin care products, as well as acting. Lately, she became chief supporter and cheerleader for her husband Dr. Brad Allen's campaign for congressman. She has gone beyond being a survivor, she is truly a victor!
So here are my tips for your health and quality of life:
• Discuss with your doctor what is your risk of developing cancer, based on your family history, your lifestyle and medical conditions. See my book Surviving American Medicine for tips on how to discuss this with your physician.
• Consider which cancer screening tests you should have and what types of cancer prevention might reduce your risk.
• If you are diagnosed with cancer, get information from the ACS, which can give you an understanding of your condition and what state-of-the-art treatments to discuss with your oncologists. Go to cancer.org for information or call 800-227-2345.
• Once your treatments are finished, get advice on improving your quality of life and becoming both a survivor and a victor, like Jaclyn Smith.
• Consider supporting and volunteering with the ACS, or another health care advocacy organization (American Heart Association, American Lung Association, etc.) to help experience the joys of helping others.
After 38 years of volunteering in the ACS, I can truly say how much more I have gotten out of my work with them than they have gotten from me. My life has been more fulfilled, and my time has been more joyous seeing others comforted and healed through my efforts. Survivors and volunteers make good partners. I toast the ACS for another century of accomplishment.