Iranians are not at any more risk for contracting cancer than other Canadians, says Dr. Sandy Buchman, a veteran Family Practitioner and Palliative Care Physician.
“While we have not seen any higher – or lower – instances of cancer among those from Iran and other Middle Eastern countries compared to other groups, a lot of it comes down to family history,” says Dr. Buchman, currently at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.
In an interview with Salam Toronto this week, Dr. Buchman emphasized the need for people of all ages to get screened for breast cancer, cervical cancer and other deadly forms of the disease.
About three years ago Cancer Care Ontario decided to embark on a primary care engagement strategy, which sought out a greater network including family practitioners such as Dr. Buchman. It served to better integrate primary care with the cancer care system and increase accessibility of screenings for the general public.
This has resulted in a great spike in the numbers of people getting screened for various forms of the disease, though Dr. Buchman says numbers have recently started to level off.
The effectiveness of screening is likely best highlighted with breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in females. Research shows that regular screening of women aged 50-69 can reduce deaths from breast cancer by at least 30%.
While screening is highly important for early detection, what are some of the best ways for preventing cancer?
“Nutrition is huge in preventing many of these cancers,” notes Dr. Buchman, who has also volunteered his time in South America and Africa. “For women especially, it’s important to avoid alcohol or have very little, and maintaining a proper weight – overweight women are at much higher risk for breast cancer.”
He adds: “Overall, good living, consistent exercise and an excellent diet high on fiber intake are crucial. Smoking, of course – both first-hand and second-hand – plays a big role in increasing the likelihood of cancer.”
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) has provided high-quality breast cancer screening for women aged 50-75 years for over two decades. The program has recently expanded and as of July has been screening women as young as 30 years old.
In addition, to help deal with the stress and time involved in scheduling screenings, the OBSP offers services that aid in reminders, additional screenings, and follow-up assessments. In 2010, the OBSP screened 475,506 women, and since 1990 has provided more than 4.1 million screens to over 1.2 million women. It hopes to greatly increase those numbers soon, with a focus on larger cities such as Toronto where the ratio of people getting screened has been lower.
Those with close family members who have been diagnosed with cancer in the past are particularly encouraged to get screened, reminds Dr. Buchman.
“If my dad got prostate cancer at age 58, I should be screened for it by age 48, that’s what we recommend,” he says. “Ten years before the age a parent or loved one contracted the disease.”
While Canadians from Iran are not in any more danger than other Canadians in getting cancer, certain ethnicities are more susceptible and rates can change over time.
“There are certain populations that have greater risks, for example black men have a greater risk of prostate cancer, and Aboriginal Canadians have seen their rates of colon cancer increase faster than the general population, though their overall rate is still not as high as the general population.”
The latter example of increasing rates could be potentially be a factor of a greater number of Aboriginals moving into urban environments that have higher levels of radiation. This illustrates the point that the environment in which an individual lives or works can also play a big role.
Dr. Buchman suggests for anyone interested in getting screened to contact their Family Physician or contact Cancer Care Ontario by either calling 1-800-668-9304 or visiting www.cancercare.on.ca/obsp or www.ontario.ca/healthcareoptions.