9 Ways to Tip the Odds Towards Cancer Prevention

By on April 17, 2016

The World Health Organization and the American Institute for Cancer Research estimate between sixty-seven and seventy-two percent of all cancer cases are preventable and that prevention offers the most cost-effective, long-term strategy for the control of cancer, as prevention of a chronic disease is infinitely less expensive than treatment. 

Several of the risk factors for cancer such as tobacco use, diet and obesity, activity levels, occupational exposures, alcohol use, and UV exposure are within our individual control for the most part. 

Some cancer risk is out of our control and there are no guarantees either. Cancer doesn’t discriminate as those with the healthiest of lifestyles can still develop this feared disease, but significantly reducing risk is within reach.

With respect to reducing risk, there’s no shortage of confusion. It seems you can’t turn on the TV, surf the net, or poke around on social media without being inundated with the latest tip, supplement, so-called superfood or fear-mongering that’s either going to spare you from cancer or cause it.  It’s extremely important to not lose sight of the forest for the trees and get bogged down with the minutia of dietary dogma, others’ philosophies, rules, and hyperbole. Rather, focus on what the bulk of the evidence from well-designed research has shown and make small, meaningful changes every day that will give you the biggest return on your investment.

The World Cancer Research Fund’s report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Prevention of Cancer. A Global Report is the culmination of a review of 7,000 rigorously designed scientific studies by 21 world renowned scientists who distilled the findings into nine general recommendations and specific recommendations for two sub-groups. It’s worth noting, that on the surface these may seem like common sense or perhaps too good to be true; if reducing almost three-quarters of all cancers was this simple, then everybody would be doing it. The fact of the matter is most Canadians routinely miss the mark. As a specific example, the average number of servings of fruits and vegetables Canadians are getting every day is about 4 ½ or about half of the recommended 7 to 10 per day. 

The World Cancer Research Fund’s Nine General Recommendations 
1) Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
2) Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. Limit sedentary behaviour.
3) Avoid sugar drinks. Limit consumption of energy/calorie-rich foods.
4) Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, 100% whole grains, and pulses (chickpeas, lentils, dried peas and beans).
5) Limit consumption of red meats and processed meats.
6) If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
7) Limit consumption of foods with a lot of salt and highly processed foods with salt (sodium).
8) Don’t rely on supplements to protect against cancer.
9) Avoid tobacco including smoking or chewing it.

Recommendations for Two Sub-Groups
1)  For new mothers, try to exclusively breastfeed for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and solids.
2)  For cancer survivors, follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.

Other Considerations
1) Avoid excess sun exposure, avoid burning.
2) Minimize stress.

While stress in and of itself isn’t a risk factor for cancer, being under stress may be a barrier to making healthier choices, can cause to derail from our regular routine, skip the gym, eat on the run, use alcohol to destress; in short, put our self-care on hold.
Cancer is not simply the result of having ‘unlucky genes’; most cancers develop through the interaction of our genes and the environment. While we can’t change our genes, we do have some degree of control over how our environment interacts with them. 
Cancer risk is estimated to be attributed to 31% for tobacco use, 31% for poor diet and obesity, 5% for physical inactivity, 3% for habitual alcohol and 2% for excessive UV exposure, meaning you can lower cancer risk by a whopping 72%.

Doug Cook, RD, MHSc is a Registered Dietitian and Integrative & Functional Nutritionist. He is the coauthor of “Nutrition for Canadians for Dummies”  and “The Complete Leaky Gut Health & Diet Book .” www.dougcookrd.com 

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