I have had an eye-opening week in Grenada. I approached the trip and my specific project with excitement but unknowing of what to really expect. My background is in epidemiological research with a focus on cancer. Given that, my role in our project was to lead a health module having a conversation about cancer with the resort staff members. Even with the thousands of articles published about cancer, the media often latches onto that one paper that claims to have found an eye-catching association, such as the cell-phone/cancer link that spread like wildfire a few years ago, even though evidence has been inconclusive and inconsistent. Though I have been trained to read through scientific studies and assess their validity, how can the general public be expected to decipher the messages the media constantly throws at them?
My excitement about talking with real members of the Grenada community, therefore, stemmed from all the uncertainties and confusion surrounding cancer. Instead of crunching numbers (which I do love), it has been truly refreshing to talk with everyday people who are not in the health field about what their understanding of cancer is and what their concerns are. From the questions I received from the staff at the sessions, it is clear that many of those scientifically unsound messages from the media are infiltrating into the public’s mind.
Though we are still unsure about all the factors that may contribute to the development of cancer, I’ve realized that we can still incorporate research findings into simple messages that the public can understand and implement into their lives. Though the science is often complicated and unclear, we do have a basic understanding of lifestyle changes we can make to help lower our risk of developing cancer. These are the messages that should be communicated to the public. Things like avoiding tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting cancer screenings are important messages to deliver. For instance, the top causes of death from cancer in Grenada include breast, cervical, and colon cancer. These are 3 cancers that can be detected through screening, and if detected early enough, can often be treated without major complications.
Though we do not know everything about cancer, we can still maintain a healthy lifestyle that will decrease our chances of developing not only cancer, but many other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Our straightforward messages at the health workshop were received well by the staff and many were surprised about all the things they could do in their lives to lower their risk of disease.