Preventing Cancer and Risk Reduction
February is national cancer prevention month. Globally, the number of cancer diagnoses is projected to reach about 29.5 million new cases per year by 2040. Although cancer is not always preventable, there are many steps that we can take as individuals to reduce our risk of getting cancer. It is important to talk about what we can do to lessen our chances. And listen, I’m with you - I also prefer the term “risk reduction” because sometimes...you did everything right.
Causes of Cancer
First of all, what is it that causes cancer? Cancer can develop from normal body cells into tumor cells. The reason that this may happen has to do with genetics and a few external factors. These external factors are called carcinogens, otherwise known as cancer causing substances. There are three categories of carcinogens: physical, chemical, and biological.
Physical carcinogens can be ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, ionizing radiation from X-rays, or ionizing radiation from radioactive materials in industrial workplaces or in the general environment.
Chemical carcinogens can be asbestos, nickel, radon, vinyl chloride, and many more - have you taken a look at your potential exposure lately?
Biological carcinogens can be living organisms that may have potential to cause cancer such as the Epstein-Barr virus, the Human Papillomavirus, and Hepatitis B.
Cancer Risk Reduction
Let’s take a look at how we may be able to prevent cancer. Many cancer prevention strategies revolve around dietary and lifestyle choices, which is great news because these are areas that we often have a lot of control over. Just making a few small changes in these areas can significantly reduce your risk of cancer OR increase prevention of cancer recurrence. Cancer prevention is just as important for people who have already had cancer as it is for people who have not.
Physical Activity and Cancer
Physical activity has been shown to reduce cancer risk. This is something small that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help prevent cancer. The more active you are, the greater the benefit will be. If this already sounds daunting, not to worry, exercise doesn’t have to be anything intense or overwhelming. To get started, you can keep it as simple as taking an evening stroll around your neighborhood. Another option could be to take the stairs whenever that is an option. Regardless of how you get your exercise in, what matters is that you are moving your body and being physically active.
Diet and Cancer
Next up, let’s talk about diet. It may not come as a surprise, but eating a plant-based diet is beneficial for cancer prevention. Centering your diet around whole grains, legumes, fruit, and vegetables is crucial. Incorporating these foods into your diet makes for a healthy eating pattern that can reduce your cancer risk.
Aim to fill your plate two-thirds to one half full of plant-based foods. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which work in the body to tame free-radicals. Free-radicals may cause cancer, therefore it is important to eat a diet rich in antioxidant-containing fruits and vegetables. Whole grains and legumes are rich in fiber, which keep the digestive tract flowing. This is crucial to preventing certain cancers, like colon cancer.
Reducing your intake of red and processed meat, as well as highly processed foods is an important step in cancer prevention. A diet high in these foods is usually low in fiber and healthy plant foods that are protective against many cancers. Try substituting red and processed meats for plant based proteins like tofu, soy, or beans.
Lifestyle Factors and Cancer
So far, we have touched on physical activity and dietary factors, but what else can we do to reduce the risk of cancer? It is important to limit alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking. Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol and smoking cigarettes are two lifestyle factors that greatly increase your chance of getting cancer. If you enjoy drinking, try substituting your cocktail with a deliciously refreshing mocktail in the name of cancer prevention. If you are having difficulty quitting on your own, it is always okay to reach out for help. I actually work with clients on these topics ALL the time. You are not alone, I promise!
In addition to these lifestyle factors that we can begin making changes on immediately, early detection is imperative to cancer prevention. When cancer is detected in the earlier stages, it is usually more responsive to treatments. Be sure to check with your medical team to see which cancer screenings are right for you.
Now that you are aware of what you can do to help prevent cancer, which tips are you committed to trying to reduce your risk? Resources:
Cancer - World Health Organization
Cancer Statistics - National Institute of Health: National Cancer Institute