You can do it: fitting in walking has so many benefits

By Alpa Patel, PhD

I just got in from taking a walk with friends on a picture-perfect day with blue skies and the feel of autumn in the air. Let me start by telling you how rejuvenating it is to begin working on a blog after a dose of fresh air!

Last week, the U.S. Surgeon General published a Call to Action to specifically promote walking. I was pretty excited about this because my research largely focuses on physical activity and health, and well, because I personally love walking. But not everyone knows how beneficial physical activity is to your overall health so I wanted to share some of that evidence through this blog.

The notion of regular physical activity being good for us is not new information. In fact, more than 60 years of scientific evidence supports that engaging in regular moderate to vigorous physical activity has a wide range of health benefits, including lower risk of early death overall and prevention of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. As a result, our American Cancer Society Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.… Continue reading →

Of Tennis Shoes, Sidewalks, and Crosswalks

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

I wrote this blog in my head first, while I was on a walk. I was thinking about how fortunate I am to live in an area that I can walk – safely – for fitness and fun, for date nights and errands. But it wasn’t always that way.

My family and I used to live in a neighborhood where we could not walk to anything from our home. Besides having no stores, restaurants, schools, dry cleaners – you name it – within a reasonable walking distance, the road leading to our neighborhood was narrow, had no sidewalks, and people sped down that road with reckless abandon.

When we decided to move “in town,” we were ecstatic. I could walk or ride my bike to work, our kids could bike to school, and we could even walk to the gym to get our workouts in. We saved lots of money by not having to fill up our gas tanks so frequently. We felt less stress from not having to drive as often on traffic-packed highways and roads.  Physical, financial and quality of life benefits — all from living in an area where we could get out and walk, safely, and for multiple purposes. 

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action

All this has been on my mind because a new report is being released today: The Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities.… Continue reading →

When Cancer Spreads: Understanding Metastasis

By Louise Chang, MD

How does lung cancer reach other areas of my body? Why did breast cancer show up in my bones? What does it mean to have metastatic cancer?

It can be hard to understand how cancer starts in one place and also shows up in other places in the body that are far from where it started. The ability to spread, called metastasis, speaks to the aggressive nature of cancer and the challenge it poses.

Cancer starts from cells in our body that have gone rogue. The body has ways to monitor and dispose of abnormal cells that develop, but cancer cells are able to avoid the body’s defense system. They grow out of control and form into cancerous tumors.

As cancer cells multiply, they can get into the bloodstream and lymph system. This allows the cancer cells to travel and settle in other parts of the body. When cancer spreads like this, it is described as “metastatic” – because cancer cells have moved to a different location in the body. But metastatic tumors are still considered to be the same cancer type as where the cancer first started. This is why breast cancer that has spread to the bone or lungs is still breast cancer.… Continue reading →

Can Vitamin D prevent cancer?

By Marji McCullough, ScD, RD

You may be aware that Vitamin D is important for helping make strong bones. But vitamin D often appears in the media because of its potential role in a host of other health effects, from preventing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to simply living longer.  However, most of these “non-skeletal” (not having to do with your bones) roles of vitamin D are not clearly established and remain a topic of active investigation and debate. To add to the confusion, several recent scientific reviews of the vast data on vitamin D arrived at different conclusions about whether it helps prevent disease or not.

In this blog, I am going to focus on the evidence on vitamin D and cancer prevention, highlight some key unresolved questions, and give some advice to consider while we await more solid answers (which may take a while).

Where does vitamin D come from?

People can get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, from certain foods, and from supplements.

Current vitamin D recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the organization tasked with developing the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), are 600 International Units (IU) per day for most adults, and 800 IU of vitamin D per day for those over age 70.… Continue reading →

World No Tobacco Day is about Driving Down Tobacco Use

By Jeffrey Drope, PhD

May 31 is World No Tobacco Day, an important annual event when we pause to reflect on how to move the world away from tobacco use and toward improved public health.  

Tobacco is one of the leading risk factors for non-communicable diseases, including cancer – 32% of all cancer deaths in the United States, including a staggering 87% of lung cancer deaths, are attributable to tobacco use. Tobacco use is also one of the most preventable causes of cancer deaths.  

This year’s World No Tobacco Day theme is illicit trade – tobacco products produced, exported, imported, purchased, sold, or possessed illegally. While illicit trade in tobacco products is undoubtedly troubling from a number of perspectives, including lost tax revenue for governments, increased revenue to tobacco companies, and links to organized crime and possibly terrorism, it’s important to look at the whole picture. The tobacco industry consistently tries to claim that strong tobacco control policies increase illicit trade. But, in fact, the single best way to fight the illicit trade in tobacco products is to redouble efforts to use what we already know works to drive down the use of all cigarettes, legal and illegal.… Continue reading →

Recent progress in cancer research, prevention, and treatment

By Fadlo R. Khuri, MD, FACP

2014 was another banner year for cancer research, particularly in the areas of treatment, prevention, and early detection. While there were several significant spheres of progress, we find the following five major advances particularly noteworthy.   

Targeted therapies

First is the development of new targeted therapies for cancer. Targeted therapies specifically block key molecules that are crucial for cancer cell growth and survival.

The promise of such therapies was first established about 15 years ago by the development of imatinib (Gleevec), which blocks the oncogene (cancer-promoting gene) responsible for development of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and led to dramatic responses in patients with this cancer. Many more targeted agents have since been developed. This development has been greatly helped in recent years by the sequencing of the human and the cancer genome, which has led to a more complete understanding of genes that drive cancer. 

Targeted agents have transformed modern cancer care by keeping cancer under control for longer periods of time and reducing side effects. However, for all but a handful of patients, cancer is able to develop resistance to targeted therapy over time.

A number of newer, more potent targeted therapies were developed in 2014 that further reduce side effects and help overcome resistance, at least for some time.… Continue reading →

Making End-of-Life Plans

By Agnes Beasley, MSN, RN, OCN

A lot of us are planners. We plan work projects, celebrations, careers, family vacations, and retirements. However, the one area that most of us avoid thinking about, much less planning, is the end of our life. After all, we don’t plan on having a terminal illness. We don’t plan on dying any time soon. Decisions about end-of-life care are deeply personal, and are based on personal values and beliefs. No one wants to think about end-of-life issues when there are so many other happier activities to fill our calendars.

Still, at some point in time many of us will face making decisions about the dying process. How do you bring up the topic? When do you bring up the topic? Who do you talk to? Thinking about your end-of-life wishes, also known as advance care planning, can be hard and overwhelming. Most people expect their doctors to start the conversation about end-of-life planning – but only when it’s necessary and not a moment sooner! That’s especially true for people with cancer, especially when treatment may no longer be working. Many cancer patients and close family members may be thinking about discussing end-of-life issues with their doctor when the time comes, but where do they begin?… Continue reading →

What keeps people from lifesaving colon cancer testing?

By Richard Wender, MD

We have made amazing progress in reducing colon cancer death rates. This progress is a direct result of increasing screening for colon cancer and pre-cancerous polyps. We are actually preventing thousands of cancers by finding and removing pre-cancerous polyps. The nation has embraced the goal of increasing national screening rates to 80% by the end of 2018 – an achievement that will substantially reduce the terrible toll that colon cancer exacts every year.  Everyone is at risk for colon cancer, whether or not someone in your family has ever had a colon polyp or colon cancer. For that reason, everyone has to start being screened for colon cancer at age 50, and people with inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of colon cancer or polyps have to start before they reach age 50. Colon cancer screening is one of the best opportunities to prevent cancer that we’ve ever discovered.

Despite this compelling reason to be screened, many people either have never had a colon cancer screening test or are not up-to-date with screening. Interestingly, nearly all of these unscreened people know that they should be screened, In fact, awareness about colon cancer screening recommendations approaches 100%.… Continue reading →

Celebrating 25 Years of Smoke-Free Airplanes

By John R. Seffrin, PhD

Twenty-five years after a federal law passed banning smoking on all domestic flights, many of us don’t even notice the lit “No Smoking” sign above our airplane seats. Until that landmark public health legislation took effect on February 25, 1990, flight attendants were subjected to deadly secondhand smoke during every flight and travelers who sat in “non-smoking” sections couldn’t escape the fumes.

As a member of the American Cancer Society National Board of Directors 25 years ago, I agreed it was imperative for the Society to utilize its scientific expertise and passionate volunteer base to counteract the tobacco industry and protect non-smokers and flight attendants from the hazardous effects of secondhand smoke on every flight. We had the evidence to prove that smoke-free laws saved lives, so we decided to take the issue to Capitol Hill. The Society and its public health partners had champions in Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), whose unwavering support was instrumental in passing the legislation. (You can hear more about Senator Durbin’s involvement in this video.)

The smoke-free airplanes legislation sparked a nationwide movement in support of smoke-free workplaces. In 2002, Delaware became the first state to enact a comprehensive smoke-free law covering all workplaces, including bars and restaurants.… Continue reading →

Palliative care is part of good cancer care

By Diane E. Meier, M.D., FACP

Deborah, a 36-year-old mother of two young children, was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years ago, and the disease has metastasized (spread) to her bones. The pain is severe, making it hard to care for her children or get to work.

Like any young mother, Deborah is determined to fight her cancer and be present for her son and daughter as they grow up. Deborah’s oncologists, doctors at the top of their field, are intensely focused on controlling her cancer and identifying the chemotherapy plans that are most likely to work for her. But they have been unable to manage Deborah’s pain. It had become so bad that she was unable to sleep or eat, spending much of the day curled on her side in bed. She missed a course of chemotherapy because of her pain, and she had to hire outside help to get her kids to and from school.

Deborah’s long-time internist finally referred her to the palliative care team at her local hospital. They prescribed a low-dose opioid medicine and within 2 days, Deborah’s pain was well controlled, she was up and around, sleeping and eating, and back to normal life with her family.… Continue reading →