Cancer prevention made big news throughout 2015. We talked to Ernest Hawk, M.D., Vice President of Cancer Prevention and Population Science, about some of the major stories from this year. Here’s what these milestones mean for reducing your cancer risk.
FDA approves Gardasil 9
This year, the HPV vaccine became even better. The FDA approved Gardasil 9 in December 2014. Gardasil 9 protects against nine strains of the human papilloma virus, otherwise known as HPV. These strains are linked to several cancers in men and women, including cervical, anal, penile, oral and head and neck cancers. This gives parents even better protection against cancer for their children.
MD Anderson recommends girls and boys get the three-shot series beginning at age 11. This is when their immune systems respond best.
Why it’s important: “Gardasil 9 protects against nine types of HPV, including five that other vaccines don’t cover,” Hawk says. “It’s the most pure form of cancer prevention. It’s proven to be safe and effective.”
Texas makes sunscreen use in schools easier
Public school students can now use sunscreen at school.
Sunscreen is classified by the FDA as an over-the-counter medication. Before the Texas Legislature passed a new law this year, school districts could ban or strictly control sunscreen on school grounds and at school functions.
To date, four states have taken similar actions so kids can have access to sunscreen.
Why it’s important: “Just one or two blistering sunburns can double your child’s lifetime risk for melanoma. This law offers a sun protection strategy for kids where none was available,” Hawk says. “It will affect a broad population over a long period of time, the gold standard in prevention.”
Number of states allowing e-cigarette sales to minors continues to shrink
Texas joined 48 other states that banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. E-cigarettes heat up and vaporize the flavoring and other chemicals. Using an e-cigarette mimics the experience of smoking a cigarette.
Fewer teenagers smoke cigarettes. But more are using e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco. But they do contain nicotine, which is addictive. So they can become a gateway for experimenting teens to try other tobacco products.
Why it’s important: “The root of tobacco use is nicotine addiction. This approach restricts the sale of nicotine intentionally to youth,” Hawk says. “Nicotine can have important developmental effects on a young person’s brain. It’s harmful by itself. But the biggest risk is the addiction.”
WHO declares processed meat carcinogenic
In October, the World Health Organization released a report confirming what many experts already knew: Eating processed meat increases your colorectal cancer risk. Processed meats include hot dogs, bacon, ham and deli meats. In addition, the group labeled red meats, like beef, pork and lamb, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Researchers at MD Anderson also found that meat cooked using high-temperature methods, like pan-frying and barbecuing, can increase kidney cancer risk.
Why it’s important: “These findings do not suggest that individuals should completely remove meat from their diet,” Hawk says. “However, they do underscore MD Anderson’s recommendation that individuals should eat a diet rich in plant foods, limit their meat intake and avoid processed meats altogether.”
New breast screening guidelines highlight importance of mammograms
The American Cancer Society issued guidelines in October stating that women at average risk for breast cancer should begin annual mammograms at age 45, with the option to begin at age 40. MD Anderson’s breast cancer screening guidelines remain unchanged: Women 40 and older should have a clinical breast exam and a mammogram every year.
Why it’s important: “We encourage women to discuss benefits and risks of any screening program with their doctor," Hawk says. "Whether a woman begins getting annual mammograms at age 45, or follows MD Anderson’s recommendation to begin at age 40, the important thing to remember is that mammograms are the best tool available for detecting breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.