Cancer prevention – fact or fiction?

When I was growing up, I heard a lot medical myths such as, “don’t go outside with wet hair or you will catch a cold.”  I was also told “chocolate causes acne” and that “if you make a silly face, it will stay permanent!” These are all medical myths and most of us would never pay attention to them.

But preventing cancer with some common sense choices and knowledge is no myth. Medical studies have made it clear that lifestyle choices make measurable impact on our risk of cancer in life. And there is no doubt, sadly, that cancer is a global epidemic. The current number of new cases is set to skyrocket from 12.7 million to 22 million in the next 15 years, if we don’t make better choices.

One stubborn myth about cancer is that there is nothing you can do about it. Some people (wrongly) think that cancer just happens or cancer is just bad luck. That is simply wrong.

According to the World Health Organisation, 30% of cancer deaths are due to dietary and behavioural choices and risks such as being overweight or obese, low intake of fruit and vegetables, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and harmful alcohol use.

Tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer and causes 22% of global cancer deaths.  Viruses such as HPV (human papilloma virus) and HBV (Hepatitis B virus) also cause about 22% of the cancer deaths in low and middle-income countries. Alcohol is another known risk factor for cancer. It is strongly linked with an increased risk of cancers of the head and neck, bowel and breast, and may also increase the risk of liver cancer and colon cancer in women.

Additionally, the rate of overweight and obese adults is increasing globally at an alarming rate. Being overweight or obese is very strongly linked to increased risks of colon, breast, uterine, prostate and other cancers. We will continue to see rising cancer rates (and costs) until we all do something about the exploding obesity epidemic, such as increasing your physical activity.

So, what can you do? Knowing these facts and talking about the challenges of cancer is the first step. Other interventions you should incorporate include:

  1. Quit smoking! Don’t smoke or use tobacco products or any kind.
  2. Eat at least 5 servings daily of vegetables and fruits.
  3. Exercise every day. Remain active by using stairs and walking 10,000 steps every day.
  4. No more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day for men and 1 alcoholic drink per day for women.
  5. Get vaccinated or screened for dangerous viruses such as HPV or HBV.
  6. Do what you can to downsize to a realistic lean weight. Avoid sugary soft drinks and calorie rich beverages that promote weight gain and increase cancer risk.
  7. Reduce the amount of animal products you eat, which are associated with an increased risk of colon and gastric cancers. Add more fibre to your diet.

So stick with the facts and help prevent cancer with a common sense approach.  These simple rules will make a big difference in your health and the health of your family.

Original article was written on 3 February 2014