Cancer is an indiscriminate world-wide killer. Each year, more than 12.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer and 7.6 million people die from cancer. Absent affirmative action, the worldwide cancer burden may reach 26 million new diagnoses and 17 million deaths by the year 2030.
Benjamin Franklin, the tenth son of a soap maker, had an extraordinary life. Printing, discovering electricity, engaging in politics, and providing enduring wisdom are among the achievements of this amazing man. Most of us learned Mr. Franklin’s adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” early in life from our parents. In turns out that Mr. Franklin’s wisdom applies to the war against cancer.
Many cases of cancer can be prevented. The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research have reported that 30 to 40% of cancers can be prevented through healthy life-style decisions. Another one-third of cancers can be cured through early diagnosis and treatment, but this is best employed as a second line of defense.
For the United States, healthy lifestyle changes have been reported to reduce some forms of cancer significantly. For 12 types of cancer, the overall reduction of cancer through healthy lifestyle changes is 35%. The percentage reduction in cancers breaks out as follows: mouth, pharynx, larynx – 63%; esophagus – 69%; lung – 36%; stomach – 47%; pancreas – 39%; gallbladder – 21%; liver – 15%; colon-rectal – 45%; breast – 38%; endometrial – 70%; prostate – 11%; and kidney – 24%. It is estimated that for all types of cancer, 24% of cases are preventable. The World Cancer Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research report is available at: http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/pr.
A couple of years ago, we provided suggestions to reduce the risk of cancer through healthy life style choices in our book “Battling and Beating Cancer – The Cancer Survival Book.” Many of these suggestions are corroborated by the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research findings.
So here are some suggestions for reducing your cancer risk.
Become a no-smoking zone: The risks of smoking and second-hand smoke are well known. Tobacco use is the single biggest cause of cancer in the world, responsible for more than a quarter of all cancer deaths, including cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, nose and sinuses, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, breast, bowel, kidney and bladder. In 2004, second hand smoke was estimated to be responsible for 600,000 premature deaths (28% of which occurred in children).
Avoid occupational exposures and air pollution: We all have to earn a living. But many jobs involve extensive or infrequent exposure to toxic chemicals. It is best to avoid occupations that present exposure to such chemicals altogether. At a minimum, understand your occupational exposures, seek to avoid them, wear appropriate protective equipment, and adhere to proper safety and industrial hygiene practices. Keep in mind, white collar positions, like blue collar positions, may involve exposures to cancer-causing agents.
Protect against exposure to toxic chemicals at home: Toxic chemicals are not limited to the work place. Protect yourself against exposure to toxic chemicals at home by avoiding and minimizing exposure to various cleaning products, pesticides, and insecticides. Choose your personal grooming products, hair care products, skin care products, and make-up carefully to minimize risks. Also, some recommend airing out your dry cleaning before you bring it in the house. Know what chemicals you are using and, where possible, substitute potentially harmful chemicals with safe alternatives.
Avoid exposure to infectious agents: Although cancer is not contagious, exposure to infectious agents can increase the risk of cancer or cause cancer. The National Cancer Institute reported in 2009 that approximately 18 percent of cancers are caused by infectious agents. For example, hepatitis B is known to be a cause of cancer of the liver, human papillomavirus is linked to cervical cancer, and helicobacter pylori bacteria increases the risk of stomach cancer. HIV is linked to some cancers. This is another reason to practice safe sex, if you are sexually active. .
Keep a clean house and practice good personal hygiene: Apart from the associations between certain bacteria and viral infections and cancer, while you are undergoing treatment your immune system may be compromised and you do not need to add an infection to the list of elements you are fighting. Hand washing, avoiding contact with people who are sick, and practicing good hygiene should become a way of life.
Avoid unprotected exposure to the sun: There are some healthy aspects to exposure to the sun, such as the creation of Vitamin D. But prolonged, unprotected exposure generally should be avoided. Beds should be used for sleeping, not tanning. Between 50 and 90% of skin cancers are caused by excessive UV exposure.
Eat a well-balanced diet to the extent possible: WCRF/AICR’s recommendations for cancer prevention include: be as lean as possible without becoming underweight; avoid sugary drinks; limit consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fiber, or high in fat); eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and pulses such as beans; limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats; and limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt.
Engage in exercise and physical activity: Stay active and when in doubt check with your physician about your routine.
Drink safe water: It is not only important to drink a sufficient quantity of water, but to know that the water you are drinking is safe. Testing the source of your tap water and using appropriate filters is one way. Drinking mineral or spring water from a known and reliable source is another.
Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol: Although there are some reports that drinking a little red wine is not harmful to most people and may be helpful, it is clear that avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol is an important element of a cancer avoidance strategy.
Supplements: There are a lot of claims about the wonders of various supplements, but many are unsupported. You should be careful regarding the supplements you are taking and make sure that your doctors know what you are taking. A recent example makes the point well. Many people advocate drinking green tea either to promote health or to help with symptoms of chemotherapy. Yet, in February 2009, researchers at the University of Southern California reported that green tea renders a cancer drug used to treat multiple myeloma and mantle cell lymphoma completely ineffective in treating cancer. The study found that a component of green tea extract called EGCG destroys any anticancer activity of the drug Velcade in tumor-bearing mice. The finding was unexpected and the researchers reported, “Our hypothesis was that GTE or EGCG would enhance the anti-tumor effects of Velcade, and that a combination of GTE with Velcade (or EGCG with Velcade) would turn out to be a superior cancer treatment as compared to treatment with Velcade alone.” This did not turn out to be the case.
Get recommended screenings: Mammograms, colonoscopies, pap-smears, and other tests are not infallible, but most people should get these tests at the appropriate intervals and insist that their love ones do as well. Sometimes, they will prevent cancer. For example, polyps often are removed during a colonoscopy before they become malignant. Other times, such tests cannot prevent cancer, but cause it to be diagnosed earlier when the chances of beating the disease are greater and when less toxic treatments may be required. The recommended guidelines are not infallible either. Many women in their 20s, for example, get diagnosed with breast cancer. So when you have you have particular symptoms that lead you to believe that a medical test is warranted discuss it with your doctor and, where appropriate, push for the test even if it does not fall within the particular guidelines.
Anyone enduring treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation understand the clear advantage of preventing cancer!