Is cancer preventable?

Lifestyle could prevent up to 70% of cancers



- 1.685 million new cancer cases in the US in 2016
- 595,690 cancer deaths in the US
5.3 million cancer deaths worldwide

We have the means to prevent about half the cancer deaths and 20-40% of incidence in the US under our own belt, says a team of Harvard University researchers. With the onslaught of environmental carcinogens, solar radiation, fungal toxins and other attackers of cell health, their message appears to be that healthy living could provide the defenses against some of these marauders.

So what is a healthy lifestyle: it involves exercise and refraining from vices such as smoking, drinking and overeating, according to the doctors writing in JAMA Oncology.

Diet And Cancer

The study comes after a different study, published last year, found that the majority of cancers were caused by random mutations in DNA and suggested that therefore these cases were unpreventable.

The evidence provides “strong support for the argument that a large proportion of cancers are due to environmental factors and can be prevented by lifestyle modification,” say Drs Mingyang Song, research fellow, epidemiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Edward Giovannucci, associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School.

5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects whereas the remaining 90– 95% have their roots in the environment and lifestyle.

Song and Giovannucci, using data from 136,000 men and women enrolled in either the Nurses’ Health Study or the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, defined healthy living strictly and implicated smoking and alcohol as two big cancer agents. Obesity influenced risk as well. High risk groups were 25-33% more predisposed to get cancer and 44-48% more likely to die from cancer.

Vitamin D Attacks Cancer Cells

The healthy lifestyle could prevent up to 70% of cancers, the article says. In an accompanying editorial, Graham Colditz, MD amd Siobhan Sutcliffe, public health researchers, at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, wrote, “As a society, we need to avoid procrastination induced by thoughts that chance drives all cancer risk or that new medical discoveries are needed to make major gains against cancer. Instead we must embrace the opportunity to reduce our collective cancer toll by implementing effective prevention strategies and changing the way we live.”

Cancer Prevention Musts:
1. Smoking cessation
2. No alcohol
3. Calorie restriction
4. Exercise
5. Increased intake of fruits and vegetables
6. Avoidance of direct sunlight
7. Minimal meat—especially cured—consumption
8. Use of whole grains
9. Regular check-ups

Yet, simultaneously the fact that one can gird themselves against cancer should not excuse industrial polluters from poisoning our tissues with unsafe chemicals. Some cancers are immune to dietary protection. Even if the researchers are correct, half of all cancers still would occur— especially Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain, prostate, testicular, ovarian, breast, uterine, bladder and colon malignancies—and continue to decimate lives, indicating that to win the war—instead of a large battle—will take more than diet alone.

Preetha Anand, Ajaikumar B. Kunnumakara, Chitra Sundaram, Kuzhuvelil B. Harikumar, Sheeja T. Tharakan, Oiki S. Lai, Bokyung Sung, and Bharat B. Aggarwal Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes Pharm Res. 2008 Sep; 25(9): 2097–2116. Published online 2008 Jul 15. doi: 10.1007/s11095-008- 9661-9 PMCID: PMC2515569
Song M, Giovannucci E. Preventable Incidence and Mortality of Carcinoma Associated With Lifestyle Factors Among White Adults in the United States. JAMA Oncol. 2016 May 19. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.0843. [Epub ahead of print]
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