Over half a million Americans die of cancer every year, making cancer the #2 cause of death in the United States, second only to heart disease. What determines who gets cancer and who doesn’t? Is just bad luck? Not exactly. Some people are at increased risk of cancer due to genetic factors, enviromental factors, diet, immunity, and other factors. Since some of these risk factors can be modified, cancer can sometimes be prevented before it ever starts. Preventing cancer before it starts is called “primary prevention”. For other people, cancer can be diagnosed, treated, and cured at its earliest stages. This is known as “secondary prevention”. Once an individual is diagnosed with advanced stage metastatic cancer, treatment becomes much more difficult, and the prognosis for a cure becomes unlikely. This is why the best treatment for cancer is prevention.
How do we prevent cancer? The American Cancer Society gives us several weapons in the war against cancer. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, avoiding excessive exposure to the sun, and not using tobacco products are the best ways to prevent cancer from starting in the first place. For secondary prevention, some types of cancer can be detected, treated, and cured in its earliest stages by screening tests. These include colon cancer which can be detected early by colonoscopy, breast cancer by mammogram, and cervical cancer by Pap smear.
What is the cancer prevention diet? The American Cancer Society Guidelines for a cancer prevention diet can be summarized as follows:
- Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods.
- Choose foods and drinks in amounts that help you get to and maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit how much processed meat and red meat you eat.
- Eat at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
- Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.
- Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day for women or two per day for men.
Can exercise help to prevent cancer?
Yes. The American Cancer Society recommends:
Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week. Children and teens should get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity each day, with vigorous activity on at least 3 days each week. Limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, watching TV, and other forms of screen-based entertainment. Doing some physical activity above usual activities, no matter what one’s level of activity, can have many health benefits.
What about smoking and cancer? Besides lung cancer, tobacco use also increases the risk for cancers of the mouth, lips, nasal cavity and sinuses, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, uterus, cervix, colon & rectum, ovary, and acute myeloid leukemia. The American Cancer Society offers guides to quitting both smoking and smokeless tobacco on its website: www.cancer.org
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. Fortunately, since it is often caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun, skin cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer. The American Cancer Society has a skin cancer prevention awareness campaign to reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The slip, slop, slap, & wrap recommendations are: Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a hat, and Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them from ultraviolet light.
The best ways of primary prevention of cancer are maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, and avoiding tobacco and excessive exposure to solar radiation. Here’s to a long, happy, and healthy life!