We are coming to the close of Cancer Prevention month, but before we move into March I’d like to highlight some ideas for ways to help prevent cancer in your life. The Prevent Cancer Foundation notes that it’s estimated that only 5% of cancers are hereditary, making prevention an exceptionally important topic. Activities we engage in everyday can impact our risk of developing cancer.
Contaminants from both the natural environment and human industry are ever present in our lives. The unfortunate reality is that exposure to these toxins can lead to cancer, and therefore the best means of prevention is to avoid them as much as possible. There are many cases where toxin substances are still being tested for their relationship to cancer and other health issues. In recent years, the chemicals found in plastics, particularly BPA, have come under scrutiny. The FDA is still investigating BPA, so unfortunately there is not currently a clear answer as to whether it causes cancer. Particularly this is because while BPA is known to mimic estrogen and may disrupt the body’s hormonal processes, it is unclear if BPA is leached from plastics in large enough quantities to cause significant harm to humans.
For everyday items like plastic containers, cosmetics, and cleaning products, there still needs to be significant investigation into their potential impacts on human health. However, there are still many chemicals that are currently acknowledged to be carcinogenic. One of the most infamous is tobacco and one of the easiest ways to keep that carcinogenic compound out of your system is to not smoke! Lung cancer remains one of the most common types of cancer in the United States.
Another toxin that can impair your lung health and cause a rare cancer is the natural mineral known as asbestos. Asbestos was heavily used during the industrial era and well into the 1970s because of its exceptional durability. It can still be found in many products, such as potting soil, insulation, and construction materials. The danger to human health occurs when asbestos is broken down into microscopic particles that can easily become airborne and inhaled. Inhaling these particles can cause mesothelioma, which most often in the lining of the lungs. Despite being a known carcinogen, asbestos has not yet been banned in the United States, which makes prevention and awareness all the more important.
Nutrition also plays a role in cancer prevention, however there are still many unknowns. It can often be confusing when new studies are released claiming that certain foods can either reduce or increase the risk of developing cancer. The latest “superfood” is regularly plastered across the covers of magazines as new studies are released. Vox wrote an article elaborating on this issue, and as you can see from the diagram below, there is a lot of conflicting information available.
The essence of the article is that individual scientific studies are not enough evidence to indicate a trend, despite the subsequent media attention. Science is by nature a slow conglomeration of a multitude of studies, and it is only when all of these studies are considered as a whole that we can hope to understand the overall trend. Currently there is not enough evidence to indicate that particular foods definitively cause or prevent cancer, but many are still under investigation.
What we do know is fairly limited: the American Institute for Cancer Research (AIRC) notes that individual foods or nutrients may not prevent cancer, but an overall diet with a variety of plant based foods can decrease your risk. They suggest eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
If you’re looking for information about how a specific food could impact the risk of cancer, check out this comprehensive list from the National Cancer Institute or this one from Cancer Research UK.
AICR notes that maintaining a healthy weight through diet and yes, exercise, is the best known method for cancer prevention. There appears to be a strong link between obesity and cancer; the World Cancer Research Fund suggests that 20% of all cases of cancer in the United States are related to excess body fat, lack of physical activity, high levels of alcohol consumption, and poor diet. In fact, several specific types of cancer are known to have higher incidences in overweight and obese individuals. One of the best ways to slim down and avoid increasing your risk of cancer is to get moving!
Additionally, the act of exercise itself can help to prevent cancer in other ways beyond only maintaining a healthy weight. There are many biological benefits that result from exercise, such as lowering hormone levels, reducing inflammation, and strengthening the immune system. It’s recommended that adults get each week a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity, 1.25 hours of vigorous aerobic activity, or some combination of the two.
Cancer prevention is no small feat, but if you apply these tips to you everyday life you can reduce your risk! Educating ourselves and our loved ones is the first step toward a healthier life.