Many of us are aware of the risk of ‘Heart disease’, know its risk factors like smoking, cholesterol, LDL, stress etc. and take them seriously. But the risk for ‘Cancer’? Not so serious? Wait!
You may be surprised from the US Government data for 2009. According to Center for Disease Control (1), Cancer is the second highest cause of death in the USA, very closely following heart disease. In 2009 heart disease caused 599413 deaths as #1 and Cancer was a close 567628 as #2. Cancer deaths are 95% of heart disease deaths, in spite of all the advances in screening and treatment! How less likely is death from cancer compared with death from heart disease? Hardly any difference.
If cancer is almost as likely to cause death as heart disease, do we know its risk factors? Can we do anything about the risk factors, rather than wait for it to be detected too late, as a death sentence?
I found from my personal experience that these are the popular beliefs and practices
- Most cancers are genetically influenced and can’t be prevented. Exceptions are caused by smoking, exposure to asbestos and some chemicals.
- Screening can’t detect all cancers. In some cases, by the time it is detected, it may be too late and it may not be possible to save life, only prolong it by a few years.
- When it strikes, the treatment options are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. After successful treatment, its recurrence is very likely and is a life long threat.
- During and after treatment, hardly any self care prescriptions are given about what a patient can do, to reduce the risk factors and try to prevent its recurrence.
In this context, the book “The Cancer Survivor’s Guide – Foods that help you fight back” (2) by Neal Barnard M.D (3) may deserve your attention. The author cautions that you should involve your doctor in making any dietary changes. Other experts focus on the role of Smoking cessation, Environmental toxins, Exercise, Stress management and Social support in preventing and fighting cancer. Some links are at (4).
I also recommend the guide on “Prostate cancer prevention – Nutrition and Exercise” published by the Prostate cancer foundation (5).
Diet related suggestions from many sources are following. Diet is one of the key factors. Other equally important factors from other sources are exercise, relaxation and social support.
- Enhance Fiber and cut down Fat: Diets high in fiber and low in fat, reduce the amount of estrogens (female sex hormones) circulating in the bloodstream, reducing the likelihood that cancer cells will multiply or spread. Fiber prevents colon cancer. It strengthens the immune system.
- Avoid Dairy Products: Typical dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, and so forth) are high in fat and cholesterol. Dairy products appear to play an important role in cancer risk. The Physicians’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study found that men who frequently consume dairy products had a higher prostate cancer risk.
- Avoid Meat: Many research studies have shown that cancer is more common in populations consuming diets rich in fatty foods, particularly meat, and much less common in countries with diets rich in grains, vegetables, and fruits. This is partly due to the high-fat and fiber-free characteristics of meat compared to plant foods. When meats are cooked, cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines form within the meat.
- Increase Antioxidants: They are powerful cancer fighters mainly found in vegetables and fruits. They assist in halting free radical damage, which can otherwise lead to cancer development.
- Immune system’s role in fighting cancer: Beta-carotene, vitamin C, and zinc can help the immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells. Foods rich in fat and cholesterol can interfere with immunity. Studies show that vegetarians have approximately double the natural killer cell activity (natural killer cells engulf and destroy cancer cells) compared to non-vegetarians.
- Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Healthy weight control is essential for warding off a variety of chronic diseases, and studies have shown that slimmer people are less likely to develop cancer. In addition, trimming excess weight may also improve survival after cancer has been diagnosed.
(2) The Cancer Survivor’s Guide – Foods that help you fight back
(3) Neal Barnard
(4) American Institute for Cancer Research
(5) Prostate cancer prevention – Nutrition and Exercise (Full text) Abstract of key points
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