How to Prevent Cancer
Jun 1, 2012
Cancer is the second largest killer disease in America, following heart disease. Despite this there is comfort in knowing that the five major risk factors for cancer can be prevented with some adjustments to lifestyle behaviors.
For a change, there is some good news about cancer! A recent report released in March this year says that cancer rates in the United States are dropping. The rate of new cancer cases has been falling by half a percent every year since 1999. The overall cancer death rate among adults has scaled down by 1.5 percent and that among children has fallen by 1.7 percent. This report, issued annually since 1998, is the work of a group of government agencies and other organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Cancer Society.
Although these figures show good progress, experts warn not to be complacent, since cancer causes more than half a million deaths each year in the US. The disease’s mysterious ways have made it difficult for scientists to pinpoint a single reason for cancer and its actual cause. Many unanswered aspects still exist about how cancer originates and how and why it proliferates. There are many risk factors that can predispose you to cancer, genetics being one of them. In such a scenario, prevention is your best bet! Here’s what you can do to live a healthy lifestyle and eat the right kinds of foods that have been proven to protect you or at least reduce your risk of developing it.
Cancer is not something you can expect to show up overnight. It is the result of a process that occurs over many years or possibly decades, even before symptoms show up. Cancer begins due to abnormal and uncontrolled cell division within the body.
The body is made up of millions of cells, which grow, reproduce, divide and die in a timely manner. Cancer begins when cells grow in an uncontrolled fashion, without ever dying. This is how they differ from normal cells. Cancer cells continue to grow and replicate new abnormal cells. They can also invade (grow into) other tissues, which normal healthy cells cannot do.
According to Mayo Clinic, cancer is caused by changes (mutations) to the DNA in cells. A cell’s DNA contains a set of instructions that dictate how it grows and divides. Errors in these instructions may lead to a cell turning cancerous. In normal cells, when DNA gets damaged the cells either repair the damage or just die. In cancer cells, the damaged DNA is not repaired and cells don’t die as they ideally should. Instead, they grow more abnormal cells. Such damage to DNA can be caused by a virus, radiation, toxic chemicals, chronic inflammation or random errors.
Tobacco use accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 80 percent of lung cancer deaths. The National Cancer Institute states that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States, an extremely large percentage of which is due to smoking. While lung cancer tops the list, smoking also causes other kinds of cancers, including those of the mouth, nasal passage, throat, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, bladder, cervix and acute myeloid leukemia.
Among the 7000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, 250 are known to be harmful. Of these, at least 69 can cause cancer. These toxins are capable of damaging cells. They enter the body through the lining of the lungs when smoke is inhaled and then spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.
If basking in the sun is your perfect idea of a summer holiday, you might want to rethink that. Sun exposure is one of the greatest factors causing skin cancer. The ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight damages the DNA of skin cells, which alter the genes that control skin cell growth leading to skin cancer. Spending a lot of time in the sun, using tanning beds and living in regions with intense sunlight (the Caribbean, northern Australia) increases your chances of developing skin cancer.
The CDC suggests skin protection from excessive sun exposure by wearing protective clothing and accessories like wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, using sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, seeking shade-- especially at midday, when the sun’s rays are strongest-- and avoiding sun bathing and indoor tanning. Special care should be taken to protect children from the sun because severe sunburns in childhood may greatly increase the risk of melanoma later in life.
According to a report produced by the American Cancer Society on Cancer Facts and Figures: 2012, alcohol consumption leads to certain types of cancers. Ideally, alcohol intake should be limited to not more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Even a few drinks per week may be associated with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer in women. While it is still unknown as to how alcohol works in developing breast cancer, the report states that it may be due to alcohol causing increased levels of estrogen and other hormones in blood, reduction of folic acid levels, or a direct effect of alcohol or the effect of its metabolic by-products on breast tissue.
Excessive alcohol consumption has also been linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, colon, rectum and liver. Alcohol intake along with tobacco consumption increase the chances of developing cancers of the mouth, larynx or esophagus more than indulging in either activity alone.
People who get moderate to vigorous levels of physical exercise per week have the benefit of lowering their chances of developing several kinds of cancers, including those of the breast, colon, endometrium (lining of the uterus) and advanced forms of prostate cancer.
The American Cancer Society has recently developed guidelines on physical activity and nutrition for cancer prevention, published in the January/February 2012 issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
The guidelines suggest that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense or 75 minutes of vigorously intense activity each week. Children and teens should get one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, with at least three hours of vigorous activity each week. Limit sedentary behavior and doing any conscious physical activity apart from usual daily activities can bring many health benefits.
Scientists believe that being physically active reduces the chances of developing cancer by improving energy metabolism and lowering amounts of estrogen, insulin and insulin-like growth factors in the body. Being physically active also indirectly reduces the risk of developing obesity-related cancers like those of the breast (in postmenopausal women), colo-rectum, endometrium, esophagus, kidney and pancreas. Since fat tissues produce and store estrogen, post menopausal women tend to have more estrogen than lean women. This could possibly lead to the growth of breast tumors.
Evidence suggests that a healthy dietary pattern, in conjunction with physical activity, are necessary to maintain healthy body weight and reduce cancer risk. Experts advise the consumption of a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods in particular. The American Cancer Society guidelines suggest consuming at least two-and-a-half cups of vegetables and fruits each day, limiting intake of processed and red meat and choosing whole grains instead of refined grains.
Fruits and vegetables contain anti-oxidants that may play a role in cancer prevention. Antioxidants help protect against damage to cells and tissues in the body, which is how cancer is believed to begin. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids (such as beta-carotene and vitamin A), and many other phytochemicals (chemicals from plants).
Moreover, consumption of foods and beverages in amounts that help maintain healthy weight is emphasized because excess weight triggers production of insulin and certain hormones that can play a role in cancer growth, experts say.
A GOOD WAY TO CHANGE LIFESTYLE BEHAVIORS
The tough part about changing unhealthy behaviors is to make it an interesting option for people to do it in the first place and then make them stick to it. Most corporations in America lose a lot of money as a result of unhealthy workforces. As corporate America is coming to realize that healthy employees make for a healthy business, they are providing wellness programs and initiatives to improve the health of their employees. A wellness program that works well towards positively changing health behaviors is a wellness portal.
An interactive wellness portal offers a unique online approach towards health assessments with health management services. It is a custom interactive website where participants engage in wellness challenges, education, reporting health risk assessments (HRA), personalized individual goal-setting programs, coaching, health tools and trackers and much more. Through the health assessment process participants have their high-risk behaviors identified and hence changed through the various health challenges. They are great tools in the prevention of cancer, as they assist in creating behavioral changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle. A good portal will have activities that focus on cancer prevention as part of their overall wellness approach.
- 1. Fox News. Report: US cancer rates continue downward trend.
- 2. Mayo Clinic. Cancer: Causes. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cancer/DS01076/DSECTION=causes
- 3. American Cancer Society. Learn About Cancer: Cancer Basics. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerBasics/what-is-cancer
- 4. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2012. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-031941.pdf
- 5. National Cancer Institute. Smoking. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/tobacco/smoking
- 6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skin Cancer: Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/prevention.htm
- 7. American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/002577-pdf.pdf
- 8. Scribd. Wellness Portals and Interactive Challenges – The Next Evolution of Corporate Wellness Strategies.
About Author & Company
John W Buckley, CEO Health Fairs Direct
Health Fairs Direct (HFD) provides all aspects of Corporate Health and Wellness Fair activities and services; employee health screenings, in-house fitness programs and employee medical testing, cholesterol and diabetes screenings, PSA (Prostate Cancer) testing, flu shots and ergonomic services. Ripple Effect Wellness Portal - a sister company of HFD, offers health risk assessments through health challenges and wellness coaching.