Sunday, October 24, 2010

Women's Health Gift

This past week I attended a Women’s Winter Welcome event in Lexington. There were multiple booths with all kinds of gift ideas and products directed towards women. It appeared there were between 300 and 500 women in attendance.

After an hour of exploring the booths, the women were treated to a winter fashion show with local models wearing the looks of the season.

Following the fashion show, there was a panel of 7 local doctors to discuss and answer questions related to women’s cancers including the treatments and surgery options. It was a diverse panel within the conventional medical model; there were a couple of different surgeons, oncologists, and even a radiologist that specialized only in reading breast imaging.

As I sat in the back of the room and listened to the conversation, there were two particular areas of the discussion that I found troublesome:

First, the issue of family genetics was examined and the correlation with cancer development. One oncologist suggested that women get a picture of their family history stretching back 3 generations, looking for any specific women’s cancers. He didn’t mention epigenetics at all… the idea that our lifestyle choices has an impact on our genetic predispositions and actually determines which genes are turned on and turned off. Research has confirmed this concept on multiple levels. I have heard it suggested that the actual incidence of genetically predetermined cancers is around 15 percent. This means that the other 85% of cancers are related and determined by our lifestyle choices. This is the kind of information that I find empowering. It allows us this influence in our own life and health. There is no need to sit back and feel that we are at the mercy of our predetermined genetic make up. I wish the panel would have shared this information with the women in the crowd, instead of simply delivering a message that “if you have a family history of cancer, you’re in trouble.”

The second thing that was slightly upsetting to me was when the radiologist used the term “prevention” to describe mammograms and pap smears. These diagnostic tools are not prevention techniques at all. They are screening methods for discovering cancers. They do not do anything to prohibit cancer growth… and possibly in the case of mammograms started at an early age they may actually increase the breast cancer incidence over time due to the repeated exposure of the breast tissue to radiation. This would have been an ideal opportunity to discuss the actual prevention steps women can take to support a healthy and long cancer free life. If you are a smoker, stop smoking. Loose excess weight. Practice stress management. Avoid exposure to neuro-endocrine disrupting chemicals in our food, personal care products, and daily life. Eat more veggies and fruit every single day. Avoid processed, high glycemic foods to balance blood sugars and insulin levels.

Cancer is a scary condition, but having knowledge and an understanding that we actually have an influence over our risks of developing this disease is a gift. In fact, it may have been the best Holiday gift these women didn’t get.