An ounce of prevention Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Cancer: It’s terrifying. While we all run the risk, there are things we can do to keep a serious diagnosis at bay with the most effective methods being prevention and early detection.

Smart Business asked Kathy Lukity, RN, at Akron General Medical Center’s oncology department for some guidance on ways companies can encourage workers to make health — and cancer prevention — a high priority.

What are some of the ways companies can encourage cancer prevention?

Education about cancer is essential. Following a healthy lifestyle will lessen the risk of cancer, while screening for cancer will allow early diagnosis and treatment.

Companies can assist in this process by providing information to employees and encouraging them to exercise, maintain a healthy weight, eat a proper diet and become informed on their own about screenings and further prevention.

The health of the company’s employees will benefit the company overall. Insurance rates and costs to the company can be lowered. Healthy staff means less absenteeism, fewer days of family medical leave and less loss of productivity.

Is smoking still a big problem?

Unfortunately smoking is still a problem. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths in the United States. It is estimated that approximately 20 percent of all adults smoke and the numbers are increasing in the younger population.

Smoking accounts for 30 percent of all cancer deaths and it is the major cause of cancers of the lung, larynx, oral cavity, throat, esophagus and bladder, along with a contributing cause of cancer of the pancreas, cervix, kidney, stomach and some forms of leukemia. Smoking is also a major cause of heart disease, aneurysms, bronchitis, emphysema, stroke and asthma.

Encouraging staff to quit smoking will allow them to have some very immediate health benefits and will reduce their risk of the aformentioned diseases.

Talk about screening programs.

We recommend that people 20 and older have health exams and health counseling. Here are the screening guidelines for specific cancers according to the ACS:

Breast Cancer: Yearly mammograms starting at age 40, clinical breast exams every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and yearly after age 40. Self breast exam education is encouraged for women in their 20s. MRIs are recommended for women at high risk.

Colon and Rectal Cancer: Beginning at age 50, men and women should follow one of the five testing schedules — yearly fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test, flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, yearly fecal occult blood or fecal immunochemical test plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, double contrast barium enema every five years, colonoscopy every 10 years.

Cervical Cancer: Women should begin cervical cancer screening no later than the age of 21 or three years after they begin having sexual intercourse. Screening is done yearly with a Pap test or every two years using the newer liquid based Pap test. Beginning at age 30, women who have had three normal Pap tests in a row can get screened every two to three years.

Endometrial Cancer: At time of menopause, women should report any unexpected bleeding to their doctor and should be educated about endometrial cancer.

Prostate Cancer: At age 50, annual digital rectal exams and prostate specific blood tests should be offered. High-risk men should begin testing earlier based on their family history and recommendations of their physician.

Does health insurance provide coverage for such programs?

Health insurance typically covers cancer screening according to ACS guidelines. The exact coverage will vary by the policy, deductibles and co-pays. Some health insurance also will cover programs for weight reduction.

What are some other things a company can do to help workers lessen their risk of cancer?

Some companies pay for health education programs and basic screening services. We participate in company health fairs and education programs related to specific cancers, smoke-free environments and assisting employees in smoking cessation efforts. Companies can post information about community events and education programs. Some companies offer exercise areas, weight loss challenges or group walking programs.

If food is available at the company, offer healthy food choices. Newsletters are another way to provide information to staff.

KATHY LUKITY RN, BSN, graduated from the Akron General Medical Center School of Nursing and completed her BSN at the University of Akron. She is the Care Coordinator of the Breast and Lung Center at AGMC, established to facilitate timely diagnosis of breast and lung cancer. Reach her at (330) 344-2778 or (330) 344-5864.