The Caregiver’s Role During National Cancer Prevention Month

More than 18 million Americans have either experienced some form of cancer or currently have cancer. While this number is already alarming, it’s expected that there will be nearly 1.9 million new cases in 2023. However, the most staggering cancer statistic is that nearly 50% of all cases could be prevented with lifestyle and behavior changes. National Cancer Prevention Month is an opportunity to focus on the causes of cancer, how treatment plays a part in recovery, and how our health is affected by our daily activities. 

What is National Cancer Prevention Month?  

National Cancer Prevention Month runs through the month of February. It is an opportunity to raise awareness about the causes of cancer and provide some common cancer prevention tips. Awareness is also raised about the different treatments available to cancer patients. 

Cancer is when the cells within different areas of the body mutate and grow uncontrollably, which over time can destroy body tissue and organs. Normally, cells grow when old cells die, but cancer cells will grow without a signal in the body and can divide and invade other areas of the body without warning – therefore you will often see cancer spread to parts of the body it may not have originated in. 

Even though it is not the most common cancer, most deaths from cancer come from lung cancer. The survival rate of lung cancer will depend on the type of cancer someone has. There are two main forms of lung cancer, those being: 

  • Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) – this refers to the cancer cells needed to be looked at under a microscope. It’s most associated with smoking and can be treated with chemotherapy. 
  • Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) – making up about 80% of lung cancer cases, non-small cell lung cancer usually spreads to other parts of the body slowly and can develop in air tubes, cavities of the lung, or any part of the lung.  

On top of these two, it is possible to also be diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that develops in the layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs. While not technically lung cancer, it is possible to be diagnosed with both at the same time. 

There are plenty of factors that can lead to cancer, but nearly 40% of those diagnosed with cancer are attributed to preventable causes. Overexposure to carcinogens in food, the home, or daily life is the leading cause of developing cancer. 

As a caregiver, it is important to know about some of the early signs of cancer. Detecting cancer early on increases the rates of survival. Some overarching symptoms of almost any cancer  include, but are not limited to:  

  • Skin changes 
  • Trouble going to the bathroom 
  • Bleeding and or bruising for unknown reasons 
  • A persistent cough or dry throat 
  • Appetite changes 
  • Fatigue 
  • Unexplained change in weight 

If you notice a loved one suffering from any of these symptoms, it would be wise to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. While there have been plenty of initiatives to help change the course of cancer in the U.S. population, such as anti-smoking campaigns and health initiatives across schools, only so much can be done unless a person wants to make a change. 

While there have been plenty of initiatives to help change the course of cancer in the U.S. population, such as anti-smoking campaigns and health initiatives across schools, only so much can be done unless a person wants to make a change.  

Cancer Patient and Caregiver Statistics 

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts and Figures for 2023 showcases a multitude of statistics, but most notably, the following:  

  • 88% of people diagnosed with cancer are at least 50 years of age or older 
  • An average of 40 out of every 100 people will develop cancer in their lifetime 
  • Those who smoke cigarettes are 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer than the average non-smoker
  • The estimated out-of-pocket costs for cancer patients are around $21.1 billion. This does not include what insurance covers 
  • Cancer in children is the leading disease-related cause of death, and diagnosis in children continues to rise by about 1% per year overall 

Some of these statistics are not surprising. Cutting back on habits like smoking can severely decrease your chances of developing cancer, but others, like 40 out of every 100 people developing cancer can be alarming and scary. Practicing best health practices and getting screened early and often is your best bet at preventing cancer.

Besides cancer patient statistics, let’s look at how cancer impacts the loved ones and caregivers around us. The National Alliance of Caregiving reported the following in informal and formal caregivers: 

  • 50% of caregivers reported higher levels of stress 
  • 73% of home caregivers became involved in talks about hospitalization or medications for patients they took care of 
  • Nearly 80% of caregivers are related to the patient, and provide at-home care as informal caregivers 
  • Compared to non-cancer caregiving, cancer related caregivers are more likely to provide unpaid care by over 17%

Caregivers for cancer patients can range from in-home care nurses to family members, to assisted facility workers. It’s important to understand their needs, along with the patient as diagnosis and treatment can vary over time. The care a patient may need will change as they take on heavier treatment or head into remission. This means the support they need will also change. 

Caregiving is a full-time job and if you don’t give yourself a break you can quickly become burned out, especially when providing care for a cancer patient. If you feel like you need some assistance, there are caregiver resources available from Resources range from video explainers to how-to guides. Tackling caregiving alone is a task nobody needs to take on. 

Caregiver Support for Cancer Prevention 

Given our still-changing environment in a post-COVID-19 world, the resources available for cancer patients and their caregivers are also changing. 

A cancer diagnosis can be daunting and leaving your home for appointments constantly can be a challenge. Luckily, there are plenty of telemedicine tools available that cover basic doctor’s visits and mental health appointments during this scary time in your life, along with giving you access to specialists around the country that may be able to help you and your diagnosis on a larger scale. 

Another thing to think about is your mental and emotional health. Whether you’re a cancer patient or a caregiver for a cancer patient, making sure self-care is not left to the wayside is key to a successful transition into doctor’s appointments and treatment. While it may just be a suggestion during a diagnosis, getting involved in support groups for both the patient and caregiver can help you during this adjustment period. While prevention at this stage may be complicated, small steps like focusing on yourself and changing your diet can make this change less scary over time. This goes for both the patient, and the caregiver. Times like these can be difficult, so sometimes being on the same page for diet and life changes can truly make a difference. 

Often these support groups and mental health resources can help you and your loved ones develop effective communication strategies, and money management for treatment, along with help in planning for whatever may come next. Taking control of your health can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.