Is Cancer Preventable

With certain measures and lifestyle changes, some types of cancer can be prevented

Contrary to popular notion, cancer is largely believed to be preventable. Genetic defects are attributed to only 5-10% of the cases, while the remaining 90-95% are caused by environment and lifestyle-related factors. The lifestyle factors include smoking, poor dietary choices, alcoholism, exposure to the sun and environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity, physical inactivity, and so on. Needless to say, cancer prevention is majorly associated with quitting smoking, minimal indulgence in alcohol, regular exercise, increased intake of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, limited exposure to sunlight etc.

The internal factors that are believed to cause cancer include inherited mutations, hormones, and immune conditions, while the environment/acquired factors include tobacco, diet, radiation, and infectious organisms. While the hereditary cancer causes or factors cannot be modified, the lifestyle and environmental factors are considerably modifiable. Almost 90% of patients diagnosed with lung cancer are smokers; it has also been proven that smoking along with alcohol intake can synergistically contribute to tumorigenesis. Likewise, smokeless tobacco is known to be responsible for 400,000 cases (4% of all cancer cases) of oral cancer across the globe. It goes without saying that avoiding tobacco products and minimizing alcohol consumption will have a significant effect on cancer incidence.

Another major cause of various cancers is infection by various bacteria and viruses. Vaccines for cervical cancer and HCC should play a key role in cancer prevention in certain cases, while a cleaner environment and modified lifestyle can be even more effective in keeping infection-caused cancers at bay. It may surprise you to know that diet, obesity, and metabolic syndromes are closely linked to various cancers, accounting for as much as 30-35% of all cancer deaths. This is reason enough to believe that modifying the diet can go a long way in preventing a sizable fraction of cancer deaths. Extensive researches have indicated that a diet comprising fruits, vegetables, spices, and grains can prevent cancer, as they contain various phytochemicals with chemopreventive material. Carotenoids, vitamins, resveratrol, quercetin, silymarin, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol are some of the chief chemopreventive compounds identified from fruits and vegetables.

It is also interesting to note that phytochemicals present in teas and spices have potential against various cancers. Well, looks like spices go beyond just adding favour, taste, and nutritional value to food, while tea does more than giving us the much-need morning kick! Let’s look at some of the phytochemicals present in teas and spices:

  • a. Green tea- Catechins

  • b. Turmeric- Curcumin

  • c. Garlic- Diallyldisulfide

  • d. Ginger- Gingerol

  • e. Black cumin- Thymoquinone

  • f. Red Chilli- Capsaicin


Wholegrain Foods

Wheat, rice, and maize are the major wholegrain foods, while the minor ones include barley, sorghum, millet, rye, and oats. Whole grains are rich in chemopreventive antioxidants such as vitamin E, tocotrienols, phenolic acids, lignans, and phytic acid, and hence, the consumption of whole grains is believed to lower the risk of various types of cancer, including those of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, gallbladder, larynx, bowel, colorectum, upper digestive tract, breasts, liver, endometrium, ovaries, prostate gland, bladder, kidneys, and thyroid gland, and so on.


Vitamins

When it comes to vitamins, fruits and vegetables are the primary dietary sources except vitamin D. Reportedly, vitamins C, D, and E have cancer chemopreventive activity minus the toxicity. Research has shown that vitamin C can reduce the risk of stomach cancer, mouth cancer, pharynx cancer, esophagus cancer, lung cancer, pancreas cancer, and cervix cancer.


Exercise/Physical Activity

There is extensive evidence reflecting the role of regular physical exercise in reducing the incidence of various cancers. Most chronic ailments in today's times are associated with a sedentary lifestyle. The more physically inactive you are, the higher are the risks of breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreas cancer, prostate cancer, etc.


Calorie Restrictions

Most cultures recommend fasting as a type of caloric restriction; various reports have been published that suggest how dietary restriction, especially CR, is a major modifier in experimental carcinogenesis and is known to decrease the incidence of neoplasms. However, it is still unclear as to how CR reduces the incidence of cancer.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of the preventable cancers:


1. Breast cancer:

the most common cancer for women following skin cancer, breast cancer has fortunately seen a steady rise in survival rate, thanks to technological advancement and early detection. The following are some of the steps to reduce your risk of breast cancer:

  • a. Adherence to a healthy diet

  • b. Maintaining a healthy weight and body mass index

  • c. Limited alcohol consumption

  • d. Abstinence from smoking

  • e. Staying physically active

  • f. Breastfeeding

  • f. Discussing with your doctor if there have been breast cancer cases in the family


2. Cervical cancer:

one of the most preventable cancers, cervical cancer cases are no longer that threatening, thanks to the HPV vaccine. Administered in 2 doses, the HPV vaccine targets 9 different types of the virus. Here’s how you can prevent cervical cancer:

  • a. Get the HPV vaccine

  • b. Get a Pap test

  • c. Abstinence from smoking

  • d. Limit the number of sexual partners

  • e. Use condoms


3. Colorectal cancer:

the most powerful weapon for this type of cancer is colorectal cancer screening. Thanks to the increased number of cases amongst younger adults, the American Cancer Society recommends that people aged 45 or above should have regular screening for colorectal cancer, including stool-based tests or visual examination. Colonoscopy is the most popular form of screening, though you can also go for other types of screenings. Here’s how you can prevent colorectal cancer-

  • a. get yourself screened regularly from the age of 45

  • b. seek genetic counseling if you have a family history

  • c. stick to a healthy diet and weight

  • d. stay physically active

  • e. limit alcohol consumption

  • d. minimal consumption of red meat/processed meat

  • e. abstinence from smoking


4. Lung cancer:

if you are a smoker or have been so, you should talk to your physician about your lung health. Here’s how you can be proactive in protecting yourself from lung cancer:

  • a. don’t smoke

  • b. avoid passive smoking

  • c. avoid unrotated work with substances like arsenic, asbestos, radon, radiation, and radioactive dust


5. Head and neck cancer:

this category encompasses a wide range of tumors including those of the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, mouth, salivary glands, thyroid and parathyroid glands. Most of these cancers are related to alcohol and/or tobacco use. Here’s how you can lower your risk:

  • a. get the HPV vaccine

  • b. refrain from tobacco usage

  • c. limit or stop alcohol consumption

  • d. wear a protective face mask if there is potential occupational exposure

  • e. practice safe sex


6. Prostate cancer

One of the most common forms of cancer amongst men, prostate cancer can be prevented by adopting the following measures:

  • a. adherence to a healthy diet

  • b. maintaining a healthy weight

  • c. regular physical activity

  • d. abstinence from smoking

  • e. annual physical examination with your primary care physician to be aware of your risk factors


7. Skin cancer

primarily a lifestyle disease, skin cancer can affect you at any age. If identified and treated early, basal and squamous cell skin cancers can be prevented from spreading and becoming life-threatening. Otherwise, they can grow and affect nearby tissues and organs, leading to scarring, deformity, or even loss of function. Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, is crucial to protect your screen round the year. For extended outdoor activity, however, you should go for a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Additionally, these recommendations can also come in handy:

  • a. avoid sunburns

  • b. avoid indoor tanning booths and beds

  • c. keep your skin covered with long-sleeves, broad-brimmed hats and scarves

  • d. self-examine your skin regularly

  • e. go for a professional skin exam every year, or as recommended by your physician

  • f. avoid going out in the sun during peak hours

  • g. wear UV-blocking sunglasses


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