Sitting in your doctor’s office and hearing that you have cancer can be scary. But finding out that your cancer isn’t curable can be down-right terrifying and hard to swallow. A recent study found that many people that are diagnosed with incurable cancers actually believe that they will be healed with chemotherapy treatment, even though this is not the case.
Researchers at the Dana-Farbar Cancer Institute in Boston interviewed over 1,200 patients four months after they had been diagnosed with advanced metastatic colon or lung cancer and most of these patients were receiving treatment in the form of chemotherapy. The researchers found that approximately 70% of those diagnosed with advanced lung cancer thought that the chemotherapy treatment would cure their cancer; while 81% of those with advanced colorectal cancer believed that the chemotherapy would provide a cure for them. However, these beliefs are inaccurate – when cancer is advanced, chemotherapy may provide pain relief and may extend life for a short period of time, but it cannot cure advanced cancer.
There may be a couple of reasons why patients believe that chemotherapy may cure their advanced cancer. The first reason may be confusion during the communication of the diagnosis from the doctor to the patient. While this is a tough conversation to have with a terminal patient, it is essential that the patient be prepared for the upcoming changes that will occur during their final months or years of life. The communicating doctor needs to be clear about the diagnosis and the fact that the cancer is, in fact, terminal. They must be clear when explaining the treatment options to the patient and make sure that the patient understands that while chemotherapy may have some benefit, it is not a cure for advanced cancer. The second reason for false hope is that the patient is in denial, they think that they cannot possibly die from their diagnosis. Grieving is a natural process after a cancer diagnosis, but the patient must get past the point of denial so that they have a chance to get their affairs in order.
Learning that you have cancer can be difficult so sometimes it’s best to bring a relative or friend with you to your appointments. They can help you to ask questions and remember the answers that your doctor provides you with. Asking your doctor direct questions will also help you to better understand your diagnosis and prognosis. Doctors may want to consider bringing in hospice providers as well as individuals trained in psychological issues to appointments with terminal patients. These additional providers may make it easier to communicate treatment options as well as quality of life concerns to terminal patients.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one third of cancers can be prevented. The WHO states that cancer prevention is “the most cost-effective long term strategy for the control of cancer.” While there are many factors that increase your cancer risk that are out of your control, according to the WHO, there are also quite a few lifestyle factors that you can modify to decrease your cancer risk, including:
Smoking – quitting smoking or not smoking in the first place is a big step towards cancer prevention. Smoking is responsible for approximately 22% of cancer deaths worldwide per year according to the WHO.
Diet, exercise and your weight – there is a connection between obesity and an increased cancer risk (esophageal, colorectal, breast, endometrial and kidney). Adopting a healthy diet consisting of fruits and veggies, participating in regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight will help to lower your cancer risk.
Alcohol – consuming alcohol also increases your cancer risk (oral cavity, larynx, pharynx, esophageal, liver, colorectal and breast). Your cancer risk is increased substantially if you drink heavily and smoke. Consuming alcohol within moderation is another cancer prevention strategy that you should engage in.
Infection – infections can be responsible for increasing cancer risk. For example, viral hepatitis B and C can lead to liver cancer while human papilloma virus can lead to cervical cancer. To decrease cancer risk vaccination and other preventative measures against infection should be utilized.
Environmental factors – exposure to pollution, occupational carcinogens and radiation (including UV radiation from the sun) is responsible for increasing cancer risk. Minimizing your exposure to dangerous levels of carcinogens will help to minimize your cancer risk.
Adopting these cancer prevention strategies will help to minimize your cancer risk. While there are a variety of treatment options available for people diagnosed with cancer, advanced cancers cannot be cured with chemotherapy. Cancer prevention should be a top priority for everyone; modifying the factors that are within your control are the first steps towards minimizing your cancer risk. Cancer prevention is the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle so that you don’t have to rely on the cancer treatments that are available.