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Cancer Care Full-Circle Prevention and Support
Prevention, early detection, staying well during treatment and managing symptoms are all part of cancer care full-circle.
Cancer is not a single disease. There are in fact, more than 200 types of cancer with many possible causes. Genetics, lifestyle choices, various infections, environmental and certain industrial exposure can all play a role in influencing a person’s risk for developing cancer. Because not all cancers are the same, there isn’t just one screening process, test or treatment. There will be different approaches for different cancers and for the different people cancer affects. This is not a bad news story but rather a good news story. Why? There’s a lot that each of us can do to greatly reduce our personal risk for cancer.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, a whopping 70% risk reduction can be achieved with a healthy diet, being physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight, not using any tobacco products and following the guidelines for alcohol consumption if you choose to drink. Let that sink in for a second, a 70% risk reduction. Those are some great odds, you can’t stand to ignore.
Embracing physical activity guidelines from various health agencies could help to prevent one-third of the annual 7.6 million cancer deaths worldwide according to the WHO.
Physical activity has a significant role in this regard. Exercise is known to help reduce inflammation, support immune function and improve insulin sensitivity all of which helps to prevent cancer development in the first place by improving how cells use energy.
Those 18 years of age and over are recommended to get a total of 150 minutes, or 2 ½ hours, of moderate intensity physical activity throughout the week.
It should go without saying that a diet based on wholesome foods is the cornerstone for reducing the risk for cancer. Forego being overly concerned with organic versus non-organic, or fresh versus canned. According to the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research’s report Food, Nutrition and Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, which reviewed over 7,000 studies worldwide on lifestyle and cancer have made it clear.
When it comes to diet and cancer the following is what matters:
• Eat more plant foods: whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, and pulses (chickpeas, lentils and beans)
• Limit alcohol, if you choose to drink
• Limit foods and drinks that promote weight gain (high calorie foods with added sugars and refined fats, highly processed)
• Limit red meat (300 g or 11 oz per week) and processed meats Everything else is nuanced: garlic versus onions, tomatoes versus carrots. It’s undisputed that it’s the overall dietary pattern, the sum of all your food choices, that increases or decreases risk for cancer.
The purpose of screening is to find evidence of cancer in its earliest stages to reduce the risk of it progressing even before there are any symptoms. If you have a strong family history, personal risk factors like certain exposures, age etc, for a specific cancer then screening can be part of your regular medical care for cancers such as skin, prostate, testicular, breast, colorectal, and cervical.
The purposes of vaccines is to stimulate the immune system to fight diseases caused by viruses. Viruses associated with certain cancers are HPV and cervical cancers although HPV is also associated with anal, vaginal, vulvar, penile and some oral cancers, as well as, hepatitis B and some types of liver cancer.
Staying Well During Treatment
Cancer treatment can significantly increase the risk for malnutrition. Treatment can cause symptoms that can interfere with eating and how well we digest and absorb the nutrients in food. The ultimate goal is to prevent weight loss by preserving muscle and body fat, prevent dehydration and provide sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals to support healing, the immune system and normal functioning of the body.
MANAGING OTHER SYMPTOMS
Loss of appetite:
• Eat small amounts of high energy/protein foods more often.
• Limit low energy foods at mealtime like tea, coffee, broths or bulkier foods like whole fruits and vegetables.
• Try easier to consume foods often like pureed soups or stews, smoothies.
• Eat according to a schedule (small amounts every 1-2 hours) rather than relying on hunger cues.
Feelings of fullness:
• Eat small, frequent high energy/protein meals & snacks
• Avoid gas-producing foods
• Avoid/limit high fiber foods
• Chew foods well, eaten slowly in a relaxed environment
• Bland foods at room temperature are better tolerated than hot foods with intense odours and flavour
• Sip fluids throughout the day
• Eat small amounts of food every 1-2 hours
• Eat nourishing foods as tolerated, maximize those times to get nutrition
• Avoid spicy foods
• If food odours make nausea worse, choose cold or room temperature foods
Reducing Risk After Treatment
Eating well after treatment to reduce the risk for recurrence is the same as eating to reduce cancer risk in the first place. Focus on a variety of minimally-processed, whole foods and include more plant foods. This does not mean someone has to become vegetarian or vegan. Where Canadians miss the mark is by simply not eating enough of them.
Remember that plant foods are not just fruits and vegetables but also include: quinoa, oatmeal, dark rye bread, chickpeas, lentils, almonds and flax seeds. It doesn’t take much to tip to odds in your favour when it comes to reaping the benefits.
And to top if all off, it’s still wise to get more vitamin D. Canadians lack this important nutrient and the bulk of the evidence is that it does play a role in cancer prevention.
Doug Cook, RD, MPH is an Integrative & Functional Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian. Doug’s practice focuses on digestive, brain & mental health, as well as, anti-aging nutrition. He is the coauthor of “Nutrition for Canadians for Dummies” (Wiley, 2008), “The Complete Leaky Gut Health & Diet Book” (Robert Rose 2015) and “175 Best Superfood Blender Recipes” (Robert Rose, 2017). Learn more. Visit his website: www.dougcookrd.com