The deluge of cancer articles, studies and ‘expert’ opinions on TV confounds Doctors. You can imagine the plight of common folk. Knowledge of essential lifestyle adjustments and key metrics to track is critical to avoid most preventable cancers. Several modifiable (e.g. Diet) and uncontrollable (e.g. Age) factors lead to cancer. Targeting the controllable risk factors and being aware of the regular screening procedures for unalterable factors will help reduce the cancer risk. For those at marked risk for certain cancers, preventive therapy will help (e.g. Tamoxifen for breast cancer).
Club all the available scientific evidence and we can cull out 8 distinct hacks that can help us screw Cancer. Though there are more steps for specific cancers, the following 8 hacks will suffice to avoid most cancers. Besides, these tips will also prevent other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension etc. Ensure that you follow these strictly and also become the advocate in your family for your kids and elderly.
1. Quit Tobacco:
Around the world, Tobacco causes more than 5 million deaths a year. Apart from Cancer, over 50% of mortality in smokers is due to smoking related diseases such as heart disease and COPD. Though popular perception of the impact of smoking is lung cancer (90% of all lung cancers are due to smoking), several killer cancers are due to tobacco (smoke or smokeless) consumption –
- Head and neck
- Rectum, and
- Blood (certain leukemias)
No wonder over 30% of all cancer deaths (400,000) every year in US are due to smoking. By the turn of the current century, Tobacco is set to cause a billion deaths worldwide. Quitting it is the only way to prevent above cancers and other smoking related diseases. Effective intervention is to disincentivize teenagers taking up smoking. In adults, complete cessation has striking benefits. Smoking related morbidity drops within 2 years. Within a decade or two, the risk of lung cancer drops to no more than that of non-smokers.
2. Maintain healthy weight throughout your lifetime
Obesity isn’t considered as a strong risk factor by many. Yet evidence shows that maintaining healthy weight can prevent over 120,000 cancer deaths. Obesity with BMI>30 is strongly linked to an increased risk of Cancer –
- Breast (after menopause),
- Esophagus (adenocarcinoma),
- Ovaries and
Growing evidence of the association for
- Multiple Myeloma, and
- Cancers of the liver and gallbladder
Ensure your BMI dips to normal levels ASAP, by taking up aggressive weight reduction efforts. Cutting down on carbohydrates coupled with intermittent fasting could be a fabulous beginning.
3. Indulge in Regular Physical Exercise:
Regular physical activity has a significant impact on Breast and colon cancer. It helps ward off breast cancer by
- Improving immunity and help fight infections associated with cancer
- Maintaining optimal levels of blood estrogen and progesterone
- Keeping the weight in check
- Exercise controls insulin levels, which in turn checks hormones and growth factors that trigger colon cancer.
Make the following a mandatory and consistent part of your lifestyle –
- 30 minutes of moderate exercise – Brisk Walking for 5 or more days in a week or
- 20 minutes of rigorous exercise – Running or Biking for 3 or more days in a week
Even if you exercise as above, if the rest of your time is mostly sedentary, the risk of breast, endometrial, and lung cancers increases substantially. Stop watching TV and peddling with your phone aimlessly. Be on the move; always look out for any physical activity at work or at home –
- Climbing stairs,
- Walking while talking on phone,
- Standing and working on your laptop etc.
4. Healthy Diet:
Diet is definitely the most confusing amongst the 8 hacks. Several promising links between diet and cancer are misleading. Yet, diet indeed has a stellar impact on cancer risk. Calorie count, more than the type of food, forms the crux of maintenance of healthy weight. Plant based diet with minimal animal products; low sodium and calcium (especially in men) help reduce the risk.
Add multivitamin supplements to your diet regime. Folate supplement reduces the risk of colon and breast cancer (especially in women with higher than normal alcohol consumption). Calcium and vitamin D also protect against colon cancer.
5. Reduce alcohol consumption
Alcohol reduces levels of Folate, a known protector against cancers, in the body. Even small amount of alcohol increases the risk of Colon and Breast Cancers. Young adult women, particularly, to avoid alcohol at all costs, as drinking at this age has a strong impact on adult breast cancer risk.
Avoid alcohol if you haven’t started already, and if you do, tame it to less than a drink or two a month.
6. Avoid exposure to Sun and Tanning devices
Exposure to sun leads to several cancers including the deadly Melanoma. Yet, the #cases of sun-burn are increasing the world over. If prolonged exposure occurs before the age 35, the risk doubles to over 90%.
- Avoid exposure to daytime sunlight (10AM – 4 PM). Pursue your walking, running, biking, or work on either side of this time window.
- Wear long-sleeve shirts, full-length trousers and wide-brimmed hats, if you have to stay in the Sun for long.
- Use higher SPF sun-screen lotions generously.
- Spread awareness in your family and communities.
7. Protect from infections
Infections directly or indirectly alter intra-cellular milieu and can trigger cancer. HIV by downgrading the immunity, opens floodgates to more infections, compounding the cancer risk. Few common cancers with strong associations with infections –
- HPV (Human Papilloma Virus): Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infection.
- Hepatitis B & C: Majority of Liver Cancer
- Helicobacter Pylori: over 75% of all Stomach cancers.
Appropriate vaccinations, screening, treatments and avoiding risky behavior will help cease the threat.
8. Regular Screening
If you are busy or too lazy to follow the above tactics, please note that regular screening could still save you from dying next year. This is assuming that you’d want to live a while longer with your family happily (and not be a burden to them) before signing off into your sunset.
In addition to picking up lesions, when they are at their treatable best, screening also helps prevent cancer colon and cervix completely. According to your age, gender and risk, there are detailed guidelines that help you choose appropriate screening tests. Be compliant to these and promptly reach out to the nearest healthcare center, if you detect anything abnormal.