Cancer is an uncontrolled multiplying of cells that have in some way become corrupted. Some cancers are very slow growing, giving more time for treatments and being less likely to be immediately life-threatening. Others are fast growing, and with a tendency to spread (metastasis) to other parts of the body. In all cases, the sooner the cancer is diagnosed, the better the odds of slowing, or stopping its spread, and even in some cases of eliminating it.
In “Cancer Facts and Figures 2020” published by the American Cancer Society, some facts for the US population:
• About 606,520 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2020. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US, exceeded only by heart disease.
• 80% of all cancers are diagnosed in people 50 years of age or older.
• Certain behaviours also increase risk, such as smoking, having excess body weight, and drinking alcohol. Almost 1 in 5 cancers is caused by excess body fat, alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle
• Individuals who have the healthiest diet have an 11%-24% lower risk of cancer death than those with the least healthy diet.
The probability (%) of developing invasive cancer for people 70 and older:
Men: Prostate 8%, Lung & bronchus 6%, Colon & rectum 3%, Melanoma of the skin 2.6%, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 1.9%, Leukaemia 1.5%, Kidney & renal pelvis 1.4% (All cancers 33%)
Women: Breast 7%, Lung & bronchus 5%, Colon & rectum 3%, Uterus 1.7%, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 1.4%, Melanoma of the skin 1.2%, Leukaemia 0.9%, Kidney & renal pelvis 0.7% (All cancers 27%)
According to Cancer Research UK, the most common cancers in the UK are now Breast cancer in women, and Prostate cancer in men, with lung cancer on the decline because of the reduction in smoking.
The most common commonly diagnosed cancers for people aged 50 to 74 are:
Men: Prostate 30%, Lung 13%, Bowel 12%, Head and neck 6%, Kidney 4%, Other 35%
Women: Breast 34%, Lung 13%, Bowel 9%, Uterus 7%, Ovary 4%, Other 32%
There are clear messages here about not smoking (lung cancer) and having screening when it is offered (especially for Breast, Prostate, and Bowel cancer). But the large figure for ‘other’ shows that if you can protect yourself more generally against all forms of cancer, then it is worthwhile doing so.
If you’ve not been diagnosed with cancer so far, then what’s the advice on staying that way, and avoiding cancer?
If you’re a smoker, and intend to continue, then of course, you don’t need to read the rest of this, as if you are willing to take the risk of getting lung cancer for the pleasure of inhaling smoke and nicotine, then it’s not likely you’ll take any advice on other aspects of cancer prevention.
If you don’t smoke, then what next?
American Cancer Society Recommendations are:
• Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
• Adopt a physically active lifestyle
• Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant foods.
• If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption
The advice from the UK National Health Service is: “Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer. For example: healthy eating, taking regular exercise, and not smoking.”
Cancer Research UK says: “Around 4 in 10 cancer cases could be prevented, largely through lifestyle changes, such as: not smoking, keeping a healthy bodyweight, eating a healthy, balanced diet, cutting back on alcohol, enjoying the sun safely, and keeping active.”
We’d all like to think we could take a pill to lessen our chances of getting cancer. Some ‘alternative medicine’ proponents do think certain herbs and supplements may reduce the odds of cancer, but so far medical science hasn’t managed to prove anything conclusive. These supplements (like Saw Palmetto to reduce risk of prostate cancer) don’t usually cause any harm, but it’s wise to check with your doctor before taking any supplement regularly. Meantime we all need to heed the advice from national medical sources.
Two particular viewpoints
In ‘Say No To Cancer’ Patrick Holford explains the mechanisms of cancer, and the importance of getting nutrients like antioxidants, and avoiding carcinogens in your food. He provides advice on diet and lifestyle as a means of prevention as well as combating cancer.
In particular his advice on diet is to reduce red meat to two portions a week, to avoid processed meat or burned meat altogether, and to choose organic food when you can, to minimise consumption of pesticides.
He points out that the higher the milk consumption of a country, the greater the occurrence of breast and prostate cancer. So, he recommends that we all should minimise our dairy consumption (milk, cheese, yoghurt), and if we have cancer already, then we should avoid dairy altogether.
In “How Not to Die”, Dr Michael Greger makes these observations on reducing risk:
Colorectal Cancer: make sure your diet includes:
• Turmeric (India has low cancer rates)
• Red onions and grapes (they contain a phytonutrient called quercetin that was found to decrease the number and size of polyps).
• Fibre: to speed up the time it takes for food to go through the digestive system
• Whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds: contain ‘phytates’ which can (a) detoxify excess iron in the body. (although best to remove the problem by reducing/eliminating meat, chicken and fish from the diet) and (b) target cancer cells through a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-enhancing activities.
• Stop smoking.
• Avoid chicken/poultry, as these have viruses that seem to be important.
• Include turmeric (curcumin) in the diet
• Avoid acid reflux (associated with consumption of animal fats).
• Protective foods are red, orange and dark-green leafy veg, berries, apples, citrus fruits.
• Fibre in the diet to aid digestion and flush away toxins. (Only 3% of Americans reach the recommended minimum daily intake of fibre.)
• Plant-based diet: Those on this diet are less likely to develop all forms of cancer, with greatest protection (half the number) against blood cancers.
• Include turmeric (curcumin) in the diet
• Avoid poultry (Viruses can cause cancer by directly inserting a cancer-causing gene into a host’s DNA.)
The main risk factor is nitrosamines, which are found in:
• Tobacco smoke, including third hand smoke and residue on walls.
• Meat. Fresh meat is not good, but processed meat is worse: A hot dog with nitrosamines and nitrosamides is equivalent to smoking 4 cigarettes.
The American Institute of Cancer Research says, “avoid processed meat such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and sausages.”
• Diet should be largely plant-based, and include fibre, flaxseed and soya.
• Take regular exercise
• Minimise roasting, grilling, baking, frying of meat. (one study showed that women who ate their meat ‘very well done’ had 5 x the odds of getting breast cancer compared with those who had their meat rare or medium)
• Avoid all dairy
• Avoid eggs
• Avoid chicken/poultry
• Your diet should include cruciferous vegetables (eg. Cabbage), Soya, Flaxseeds, Onions, Legumes
To reduce the risk of getting cancer
● Don’t smoke
● Keep a healthy bodyweight
● Eat a healthy, balanced diet, minimizing meat and dairy
● Get the nutrients you need, especially antioxidants
● Alcohol in moderation
● Enjoy the sun safely
● Regular exercise
US Cancer Facts: https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-statistics.html
NHS on cancer: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cancer/
Link to my post on “Prostate Cancer”
Link to my post “Say No to Cancer”
Link to my post “How Not to Die”