Part 4: Be proactive against cancer and heart disease
Chronic diseases are responsible for 83 percent of all health-care spending. These are diseases that drag on for years and get slowly worse, and require increasingly complex interventions. These are the diseases that keep doctors in business. And these are the diseases we have power to control. If we eliminate chronic diseases and embrace self-care reform, we could put millions of doctors out of work.
Let me tell you 10 ways to put your doctor out of business:
6. Screening for cancer. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in America. The American Cancer Society estimates that almost a million and a half people will die of cancer this year—about the same number of men as women—and it will kill far more African Americans than persons of other cultures. The cancer mortality rate for African-American men is 44 percent higher than for white men.
If you’re waiting for a cure for cancer, don’t hold your breath. The galaxy of diseases we call cancer is so vast and so complex that it defies any single treatment. Cancer researchers are stymied. Decoding the genome has taught us a great deal—mostly, how little we know.
Tobacco and alcohol avoidance are the primary behavioral modifications you can take to prevent cancer. The same diet that protects against heart disease may also protect against some cancer. We worry about pollution of the air and water, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 2 percent of cancer is caused by environmental pollution.
When it comes to putting your doctor out of business, cancer is a challenge. Your best strategy is screening. Fortunately, some of the deadliest cancers can be screened for and caught in their earliest stages. So women need to be faithful about getting their mammograms and Pap smears.
Did you know that more women die of colon cancer than breast cancer? Men and women older than 55 or those with a family history of colon cancer need to get a colonoscopy every five years. Personal vigilance is also critical. That means breast and testicular self-examination; awareness of moles and skin discoloration; noting the presence of odd lumps or discharges. Cancer specialists will not be going out of business soon, but with screening, you can take a bite out of their incomes.
7. Take care of your heart. The most recent America’s Best Hospital’s Survey noted that the Cleveland Clinic Sydell and Mill Family Heart and Vascular Institute ranks No. 1 in cardiology and heart surgery. It is the largest single-use medical building in the world. Only one disease is big enough to deserve a building of that size: heart disease. Coronary artery disease is still the No. 1 cause of death in America. Cleveland Clinic heart specialists are learning more and more about heart disease every day, and one of the things they’re learning is that it’s also one of the most preventable of the chronic diseases.
Most coronary artery disease is self-inflicted, or made worse by our behaviors. Risk factors include obesity, lack of exercise, poor diet, high cholesterol, smoking and high blood pressure. These are all factors we can control. Research led by Cleveland Clinic’s Steve Nissen, M.D., has shown that certain doses of statin drugs can not stop the progression of atherosclerosis, but can reverse it. Increasingly, studies also indicate that plant-based and plant-strong diets can help diminish chances of developing and even reverse heart disease.
Another big discovery seems to be that women get heart disease, too. In fact, as many women die of heart attacks as men—only it happens on average later in life for women. Heart attacks may also have less obvious symptoms in women than in men, and women are less likely to get to an emergency room within 90 minutes—the time within which you can still save heart muscle and prevent more serious complications death.
A recent study by Duke Medical Center showed that African Americans were 40 percent more likely to die of heart disease than Caucasians. Co-morbidities were a factor, as African Americans were more likely to have hypertension and diabetes, but they were also less aggressively treated—for reasons that the study didn’t make clear. Statistics like this make the preventive mantra even more critical for African Americans: stop smoking, eat healthy, exercise more, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, watch your weight. Hospitals can build all the buildings they want, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be empty, desolate places, the roosts of owls. You don’t have to need them. You don’t want to be admitted.
Check back tomorrow for Part 5 of “10 Ways to Put Your Doctor Out of Business.”