Primary care is prevention: Reducing cancer risk through access, education

Primary care is prevention: Reducing cancer risk through access, education

Parkland is equipping Dallas with knowledge to help prevent and detect cancer earlier

In 2020 more than 1.6 million new cancer diagnoses were reported in the United States, of those 116,873 were in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). February is National Cancer Prevention Month and experts at Parkland Health want to remind the community that the first line of defense is preventive care. With research indicating an increasing rate of new cancer diagnoses among adults under 50, there is an ever-growing need to reduce cancer risk and increase access to earlier detection to improve the health of our community.

According to the 2022 Dallas County Community Health Needs Assessment, cancer is the second leading cause of mortality in Dallas County. Nationwide, colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths overall, and the disease disproportionately affects Black individuals, with incidence rates the highest of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. Black Americans face a 20% higher likelihood of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer and are 40% more likely to die from it compared to other groups.

In the last few years, guidelines were updated to begin routine colorectal cancer screening via a colonoscopy or an at-home stool-based test for average-risk individuals at 45 years and older. Those who may need screening earlier include:

  • Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.
  • A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

“Encouraging early detection, I always tell people it is better to know your breast health status now rather than later,” said Aeisha Taylor, manager of COPC Breast Imaging, Outreach and Education at Parkland. “Cancer does not discriminate against age. The most powerful tool you have is to know your body, know when you experience something that is not normal for you, and then seek care.”

Breast symptoms that warrant an immediate discussion with your healthcare provider include:

  • New lump in the breast or armpit.
  • Thickening or swelling of the breast.
  • Dimpling of the breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
  • Change in the size or the shape of the breast not related to weight gain/loss or pregnancy.
  • Targeted breast pain that is constant and not related to the menstrual cycle.
  • A breast that is red and feels warm.

Keeping an open line of communication with your healthcare provider is paramount, Taylor reiterated. “Your doctor can help identify your risk level with knowledge of your family history, certain lifestyle factors, and of course by knowing what symptoms you’re experiencing,” Taylor said.

Breast cancer mortality rates declined nationally by 41% over the last 30 years due to increased availability of mammography screening, accessibility of genetic testing, community awareness, and improved treatments. Recently, Parkland partnered with The American Society of Clinical Oncology and Susan G. Komen to increase early financial coverage screening for Black breast cancer patients, and early social determinants of health screening, improving patients’ access to care.

By improving processes and workflows, Parkland has improved the social determinants of health screening of Black breast cancer patients from 3% to 86%.

“In addition to colon and breast cancer screening, many people are unaware that they can be screened for lung cancer. If you are 50-80 years old and have a history of smoking cigarettes, you should talk to your healthcare provider about getting a yearly CT scan of your lungs. Even if you quit smoking, it is recommended to keep screening for 15 years,” said Andrea Semlow, MS, MPH, Global Program Manager of Cancer Prevention, Screening and Care Integration at Parkland.

Along with to staying up to date on routine preventive care and regular cancer screenings, you can reduce your cancer risk with a well-balanced diet and making small changes to your lifestyle. These include:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet that is primarily plant-based and limits red meat, processed meats, and foods high in fat and sugar.
  • Stopping or never starting tobacco use – including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products such as dip or snuff.
  • Limiting alcohol.
  • Getting at least 30-minutes of physical activity daily.

Additionally, certain infections can lead to cancer, such as Hepatitis B and C as well as human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccines that provide protection against Hepatitis B and HPV can help prevent these viruses and ultimately reduce your risk of developing cancer. Many people who have Hep C live for years without symptoms; getting tested and on antiviral medications for Hepatitis C can help reduce cancer mortality.

Taking an active role in your health can reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases, and Parkland is here to help every step of the way.

To learn more about Parkland’s services located in the Moody Center for Breast Health at the Moody Outpatient Center, visit

For more information on Parkland’s Cancer Program, please visit

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