After a routine skin check in 2000, I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, the most insidious of skin cancers. The phone call from my dermatologist with the initial news was one of those mind-bending times when life metamorphoses in an instant. In a deeply insensitive moment, the oncologist would say to me: “You know you did this to yourself, don't you?” When my tears started to well, he backpedaled vigorously, explaining that our generation, himself included, was guilty of unadulterated sun worship: the baby oil, the foil-covered reflective screens, the long SPF-free days at the beach. My cancer could, in fact, have been prevented.
We know that lighting up can lead to lung cancer, the top cause of cancer death in the United States, so stubbing out the cigarette is a no-brainer. But what about other cancers? Is it simply a case of bad genes and bad luck? Is it just a few renegade cells mutating and replicating at random? Increasingly, research suggests otherwise: How we live — what we eat, how active we are, how we choose to indulge during happy hour — impacts us at the cellular level. You might have a tumor-suppressing gene built into your DNA, for example, that gets switched off by environmental factors, opening a gate for abnormal cell growth. And while we'd all like to think the Big C won't happen to us, the stats are alarming: The average American has a 40 percent chance of developing cancer over a lifetime. On the upside, 80 percent of all cancers are related to lifestyle — diet, smoking, inactivity, and the like. You have little hope of changing your odds in Vegas — eventually you will lose at roulette — but if you can improve the odds of living cancer free, why not stack the deck in your favor?