An ounce of prevention
Published 3:09 pm Monday, February 14, 2022
The chances are that we all know someone who had cancer. In fact, just last week, someone I know personally learned of a new cancer diagnosis. It was a very tough day. A check of current statistics reveals that one in three Americans will develop cancer during their life. But researchers have made significant progress in understanding cancer cell biology, leading to earlier diagnosis and treatment. In addition to detection and treatment, there’s been considerable effort in cancer prevention. Studies are numerous and occasionally disagree, clearly showing that prevention continues to evolve.
Here’s a summary of what we know:
ENVIRONMENTAL & MODIFIABLE RISK FACTORS
Unfortunately, our daily lives are fraught with exposure to cancer-causing agents (carcinogens). Second-hand tobacco smoke, outdoor air pollution, radon, asbestos, arsenic, lead, benzene, aromatic amines, pesticides and petroleum products are all considered environmental carcinogens.
We know that environmental issues and lifestyle choices affect our risk of developing cancer, and the best way to cure cancer is to prevent it from occurring. Many environmental risk factors are unavoidable, but there are just as many risks that we can avoid. Those risk factors are called “modifiable risk factors.”
Below are seven examples of major modifiable risk factors:
- Diet.Modify your diet to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Women who follow the Mediterranean diet (with extra-virgin olive oil) and mixed nuts may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. And reducing alcohol consumption is also thought to reduce the risk of several cancers.
- Obesity. Turn your life around and maintain a healthy weight to lower the risk of prostate, lung, breast, pancreatic, colon and kidney cancer. And by adding just 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, it is thought we can receive substantial health benefits.
- Use tobacco products? STOP! Mouth, larynx, throat, lung, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder and cervix cancers are preventable.
- Sun worshiping. Too much sun can be a killer. The sun is strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. Wear loose-fitting, tightly woven clothes. Use liberal amounts of SPF 30+ sunscreen and stay away from tanning beds.
- Virus-exposed.Exposure to hepatitis B and human papillomavirus can lead to several cancers, especially among sexually active people who are not in a monogamous relationship.
- Risky behaviors.Limit your sexual partners to minimize exposure to STDs. People who’ve contracted HIV, HPV, and AIDS have a higher risk of cancer.
- An apple a day may keep the doctor away. Still, it would be best to have regular self-exams combined with routine screenings from your healthcare provider to improve the probability of early cancer detection.
Inflammation is the body’s immune response to injury or infection. When we are injured, inflammation is a good thing. The injury reddens, swells, and floods white blood cells to fight infection. Likewise, our body responds to viruses and bacteria. But at times, this immune response can be triggered by exposure to toxins, obesity, stress, and autoimmune disorders. And in these cases, the inflammation doesn’t return to normal but is exacerbated.
Mounting evidence is clear that even low-grade inflammation can become a killer. Chronic inflammation contributes to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, covid, cancer, and more. Research is substantial that cancer may be one of the most extreme conditions triggered by chronic inflammation. To combat chronic inflammation, we need to choose the right foods and do the right things to avoid the triggers.
Vitamin D (also known as “calciferol”) inhibits the body’s inflammatory response. It’s a potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective. Foods like egg yolk, cheese, mushroom, orange juice, cod liver oil, fatty fish, and raw milk are high in vitamin D, yet most Americans don’t get the recommended daily amount. According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, men’s average daily vitamin D intake is 204 IUs, 168 IUs for women, and 196 IUs for children. But to get enough vitamin D, experts recommend at least 800 to 1,000 IUs each day. The evidence suggests that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer, and other malignancies.
But as with many things, excess vitamin D can be toxic, and vitamin D supplements may interact with several categories of medications. So ALWAYS CHECK with your healthcare provider before initiating a daily regimen of the supplement.
IN THE END, USE CAUTION
Beyond modifiable and environmental risk factors, we should remain conscious of our bodies and functions changes. For example, several years ago, the American Cancer Society developed a simple acronym reminder to seek early detection screenings—CAUTION.
Change in bowel or bladder habits
A sore that does not heal
Unusual bleeding or discharge
Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere
Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
Obvious change in a wart or mole
Nagging cough or hoarseness
While CAUTION addresses several cancer symptoms, it does not speak to all of them, but it’s still a good reminder to remain aware of our bodies.
If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or visit StLukesNC.org to learn about top-rated St. Luke’s Hospital and our new world-class services.