What is Cancer?
Cancer is the disease caused by the abnormal growth of numerous cells.
This excessive growth of cells can become invasive to the surrounding tissues of the affected area (1).
For instance, many organs and tissues of the body can be affected by cancer; such as skin, lungs, throat, blood, ovaries, etc.
In most cancers – except blood cancer – the abnormal growth of cells form a mass of solid tissue, called a tumor, in later stages (2).
This malignant mass of tissue is very invasive and can cause cancer to spread throughout the body.
Once the tumor forms, the cancer cells can break off and spread to other parts of the body through the blood or the lymph system (3).
Benign tumors, on the other hand, are not invasive and do not usually form again once they have been removed.
Cancer cells are less specialized than normal cells and are capable of undergoing mutations easily.
While normal cells have a special function and type, cancer cells do not (4).
Cancer cells also continue to grow and multiply beyond a normal cell’s capacity.
Such cells are unable to stop, which creates the tumor mass.
Cancer cells also have the ability to influence and affect the tissues in the area that surrounds them.
They can cause normal cells nearby to give them aid.
Cancer can be caused by many things (5).
But as cancer is a genetic disease, your genetic makeup is a leading factor that affects the way your cells grow, divide and function.
Since genes are inherited from one’s parents, cancer is a very hereditary disease.
If your family has a history of cancer patients then it is more likely for you to be affected by cancer as well.
But genes aren’t the only factor that causes cancer.
An unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco usage, smoking, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, as well as certain environmental exposures can cause a change in a person’s DNA or make them vulnerable to developing cancer cells (6).
Excessive exposure to radioactive substances and the ultraviolet rays of the sun can also cause skin cancer – an example of cancer caused by environmental exposures.
Certain infections, such as HPV, EBV or H. Pylori virus, are known to increase the risk of cancer (7, 8).
Generally, when a viral infection causes long-term inflammation in an organ, the organ and surrounding area affected have a greater risk of cancer, though exactly how that works is not yet understood.
In the case of HPV, the cells in the affected area increase their rate of multiplication because of damage to their DNA, which can cause cancer.
Moreover, cancer occurs when changes occur in a single cell or a group of cells in our body.
Each cell in our body has DNA; part of the information included in the DNA is when and how the cell should grow, divide and destroy itself.
When this signal doesn’t work effectively in a particular cell, and it grows beyond its designated capacity, the cells can become cancerous (9).
Although it is still not very clear what exactly causes cancer and why it happens to people, it is possible to reduce one’s risk of acquiring cancer by leading a very healthy lifestyle.
With a life-threatening disease such as cancer, it is better to take preventive measures and ensure that the disease does not occur in the first place.
Ways to Prevent Cancer
Many risk factors can be avoided if you take the right precautionary measures.
It is better to ensure that you lead a healthy lifestyle to prevent yourself from being at risk of developing cancerous cells.
Basically, living an active lifestyle with physical activity, a healthy balanced diet, not abusing alcohol, drugs and tobacco substances, and avoiding excessive tanning and other behaviors in excess will ensure that you will be less likely to develop cancer.
Changes in Diet
Nutrition can dictate the way your body functions.
It is the leading factor that determines the strength of your immune system and the ability of your body to heal, grow and prevent itself from being at risk of disease.
Following a balanced diet that includes the right portions of carbohydrates, fats, protein, dairy, sugar, and oils – as well as the necessary vitamins and minerals – can ensure that you get all the nutrients that your body needs.
Eating a balanced meal and sufficient calories can also prevent obesity – a known cause of numerous diseases.
So, here is a list of changes that you can make in your diet to ensure that you get all the nutrients that you need and cut out all the unhealthy factors in your meals to prevent cancer.
Eat Fish Packed with Omega-3
Omega-3 is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that has the ability to lower one’s risk of cancer.
It is mainly found in fish, such as wild salmon, and (to some extent) in a variety of nuts and oils.
Although it is not known exactly how omega-3 reduces a person’s risk of cancer, it is believed that this fatty acid reduces the production of enzymes that encourage the formation of cancer cells and even increases the rate of cancer cell death (10).
Omega-3s also have anti-inflammatory properties that arise when paired with enzymes.
According to a study by Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, women who ate wild salmon at least three times a week had 33 percent less chance of developing certain types of colon polyps.
Other studies have also shown that consuming wild salmon three to four times a week can prevent endometrial cancer in women and blood cancers such as leukemia.
The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends consuming 3 ounces of fish containing omega-3s twice a week.
Drink Red Wine and Beer
Alcohol is known to damage the cells in your body.
However, studies have shown that if you drink alcohol that contains resveratrol – a beneficial compound mostly found in red wine, which has been known to reduce the risk of cancer – it will help destroy cells with unrepaired DNA damage (11).
This prevents the accumulation of damaged cells which could have formed tumors or become cancerous cells.
According to a study done by the University of Colorado Denver, the resveratrol in red wine also compounds in grape seed extract kill damaged cells and may help prevent cancer.
Another study was done by the Queen’s University of Belfast also discovered that drinking wine or beer three to six times a week reduced the risk of H. pylori infections by 11 percent.
Eat Lean Protein
The International Agency for Research on Cancer states that processed meat can increase one’s risk of cancer (12).
Processed meat includes meat that has been cured, salted, smoked, fermented or otherwise preserved and includes things like hot dogs, some sausages and deli meats, and bacon.
Such meats have been classified as carcinogens, which means that they cause cancer.
The IARC considers red meat (beef, pork, lamb and goat) a probable carcinogen.
Their classification comes from 800 studies that were reviewed by 22 experts assembled from 10 countries.
Those reviewers discovered that consuming 50 grams of processed meat daily increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
Harvard researchers, after 28 years of monitoring the food choices of 121,000 adults, discovered that eating three ounces of red or processed red meat a day had 10 or 16 percent more chance of dying from cancer than someone who consumed less than half a serving (1.5 ounces) of such meat a day.
So, to prevent cancer, you should limit red meat consumption and depend on fish, poultry, dairy, whole grains, nuts, and legumes for the majority of your protein.
Avoid High-Heat Foods
Fried foods are usually cooked at high heat.
Plant foods that are cooked at high heat form acrylamide, which is carcinogenic, and French fries and potato chips appear to have the highest levels.
Meat cooked at high temperatures forms heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
All three of these compounds are associated with a higher risk of cancer.
According to researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, eating deep-fat fried foods, such as French fries, fried chicken or fish, and doughnuts, one or more times per week increases men’s risk of developing prostate cancer by 30 to 37 percent and also have “a slightly greater risk of more aggressive prostate cancer.”
A study done by the Shohada Teaching Hospital in Tehran also showed that women who ate fried foods more often were nearly eight times more likely to develop breast cancer.
Eat Food with Antioxidants
Antioxidants fight a normal process called oxidation to prevent free radical damage.
They protect cells from being damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals (13).
Our body naturally produces free radicals and antioxidants that counteract each other.
But, in most cases, the production of free radicals is much more than the production of antioxidants in the body.
So eating foods that contain antioxidants, such as red grapes, artichokes, onions, etc., will supply the body with sufficient antioxidants.
Red grapes also contain resveratrol, which prevents the growth of cancer cells; artichokes and onions contain flavonoids, a collection of compounds that are also known to reduce the risk of cancer.
Brazil nuts are very high in selenium, an essential mineral that functions as an antioxidant.
Adding Brazil nuts to your diet is one way to add antioxidants to protect your body from free radicals and strengthen your immune system.
Cancer is caused by the abnormal growth of cells and free radicals have a tendency to increase the chances of abnormal cell growth.
Antioxidants combat the chances of abnormal cell growth by preventing oxidation that causes damage to molecules and DNA.
Drink More Milk and Green Tea
Green tea contains a chemical called EGCG which contains a high number of antioxidants.
Since antioxidants are known to reduce one’s risk of cancer, green tea and other such teas have been shown to prevent cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, tea drinkers had a reduced chance of breast, ovarian, lung and prostate cancer.
Green tea can also boost your metabolism, which will help promote overall well-being.
Studies have also shown that calcium can protect you against colon cancer.
Analysis of combined research showed that people who consumed 700mg of calcium a day had a 35 to 45 percent less risk of colon cancer compared to people who consumed less than 500mg of calcium a day.
Although milk is a leading source of calcium, if you are lactose intolerant, dark leafy greens, non-dairy milk, etc. are a good source of calcium as well.
Cut out Sugary Foods
Sugar is one of the biggest causes of health deterioration.
As sugar is found in a lot of foods and drinks, this is a nearly unavoidable substance.
The carbohydrates that we eat also transform into sugar in our body and this can increase one’s risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes (14).
Although sugar itself is not a direct source that causes cancer, it causes other diseases that support the growth of cancer cells in the body.
Studies show that refined carbs such as white sugar, white flour, and high fructose corn syrup feed tumors and encourage the development of cancer cells.
Cancer also thrives in an acidic environment and as sugar is highly acidic, this can encourage the growth of cancer cells as well (15, 16).
Sugar is also the leading cause of obesity, and the excess amount of fat in our body increases the risk of being prone to other diseases as well.
Eat Complex Carbohydrates and Fibrous Foods
Carbohydrates are the nutritional substances that provide us with the easiest source of energy.
Carbs are an essential part of a balanced diet.
There are two types of carbs that we can consume: refined carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates (17).
While refined carbohydrates may increase our risk of cancer, complex carbohydrates can actually help reduce our risk of cancer.
Foods that contain complex carbohydrates include whole wheat, rolled oats, and grain-based products.
Such complex carbohydrates contain fiber that forms roughages in our digestive tract (18).
This roughage adds bulk to our feces and it helps the smooth functioning of our bowel movement.
Studies have shown that a well-working bowel system reduces the risk of colon cancer (19).
Eating a diet that contains a lot of complex carbohydrates also ensures a diet that is low in fat and high in fiber.
The combination of such foods nearly ensures the prevention of cancer and reduces severe constipation.
Eat Garlic with Your Meal
The pungent smell of raw garlic can be a major turn-off, but garlic contains allyl sulfur compounds that strengthen your immune system (20).
This compound is known to stimulate the body’s natural immune system and also for the ability to stop cancer-causing chemicals from being formed and activated (21).
When the cancer-causing chemicals are removed from the body, the chances of cancerous cell formation are reduced greatly.
Garlic also has antibacterial properties that can help kill viruses in the body.
It also has the ability to induce cell death, aid DNA repair and reduce cell proliferation (22).
The World Health Organization recommends one clove of garlic a day to help reduce one’s risk of cancer and to ensure the overall well-being of the body.
Avoid Smoked Foods
The barbecued meal is enjoyed throughout the world.
Marinated meat cooked in a skillet on a flaming grill produces a delicious dish.
But smoking food can cause carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to form on the food (23).
Epidemiological studies have shown a correlation between intestinal cancer and the consumption of smoked meat.
The cooking of meat on an open flame increases the chance of formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and PAHs, both of which are highly mutagenic substances.
These substances have been shown to increase the rate of cancer cell formation in the body (24).
Therefore, it is highly recommended that you do not consume smoked or grilled meat on a regular basis.
Changes in Lifestyle
One of the modifiable factors of cancer prevention is your lifestyle.
Leading a healthy and happy lifestyle can definitely ensure a better overall well-being.
By modifying your diet, physical activities, daily routine and the way that you lead your life, you can add years to your life and reduce the risk of many diseases including cancer.
Here is a list of changes that you can make in your lifestyle to reduce your risk of cancer.
Get 30 Minutes of Exercise a Day
Physical inactivity is a leading cause of many diseases.
Physical activity will promote heart health, stress relief, blood circulation and help prevent obesity (25).
Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day will ensure that you complete your mobility quota.
Physical exercise can be done in many forms (26).
You can jog, run, walk, do aerobics, cardio, yoga, etc.
You should make it your goal to get at least 15 minutes of continuous cardio exercise a day to elevate your heart rate.
This will strengthen your body and the activity will ensure that your metabolism functions well.
Studies have shown physical activity is associated with a 12 percent average reduction in breast cancer risk, and the risk is reduced by about 30 percent for women who exercised 10 to 19 hours per week.
Exercise reduces the estrogen in the blood, which reduces the risk of breast cancer in women.
A smaller waistline and controlled BMI also ensures that the excess fat does not support the development of cancer cells in the body.
Increase Mobility Throughout the Day
Being sedentary throughout the day can actually increase your chances of cancer.
Moderate activity, such as taking the stairs, stretching every 30 minutes, standing instead of sitting, and not laying down during the day, can increase blood circulation throughout your body (27).
This mobility is less intense than physical exercise but just as effective when it comes to preventing cancer.
New research has shown that people who sit during the day have a 24 and 32 percent higher chance (respectively) of developing colon and endometrial cancer than people who remain mobile throughout the day (28).
Avoid Tanning Beds and Excessive Tanning
Excessive exposure to tanning beds and sunlight increases one’s risk of skin cancer.
The harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning bed bulbs can affect your skin drastically.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is caused by the changes in the skin cells called melanocytes, which is usually caused by infrequent but intense sun exposure in those who are genetically predisposed to melanoma (29).
The ultraviolet radiation from the sun damages the DNA of the cells, which triggers mutations within the cells – increasing the development of malignant tumors (30).
This type of skin cancer usually develops as black or brown spots, but they can also be red, pink, purple, blue, white or even skin colored.
Skin cancer is almost always curable if treated early, but (like other cancers), if it is missed and spreads through the body, it is harder to combat.
So it is important that you limit exposure times and use a quality zinc oxide sun lotion when outside and also avoid tanning beds.
If you do need a tan, opt for an organic tanning lotion and less sun time.
Get 15 minutes of Sun Time
As mentioned in the dietary section, calcium can help reduce one’s risk of cancer.
But vitamin D, which also helps prevent cancer (31), is necessary to efficiently absorb calcium and phosphate in the small intestine.
The sun is a major source of vitamin D, and our body can easily make enough in less time than it takes for the skin to burn (if a large enough area of skin is exposed).
Vitamin D also promotes proper cell maturation and reproduction.
When the growth of cells is regulated, there is less chance of them multiplying excessively and becoming cancerous (32).
So, better absorption of calcium and phosphate in the body and the regulated growth of cells can reduce one’s risk of cancer (33).
Practice Safe Sex
H. Pylori and HPV are two viruses that significantly increase cancer risk, and they can be transmitted between sexual partners during intercourse.
This can occur when people have intercourse without using a condom.
Other than abstinence, the condom is the best preventive measure for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as pregnancy.
Using a condom every time during sexual intercourse with a partner that has not been tested can prevent the transmission of these cancer-causing viruses.
This is a part of a lifestyle change, as most couple tends to opt for the pill or other birth control mechanisms, but only a condom can prevent the transmission of HPV and H. Pylori (34).
Avoid Tobacco and Drug Use
More than four out of five cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking cigarettes.
Smoking and chewing tobacco can cause mouth, tongue and throat cancer and other diseases.
The abuse of drugs and other harmful substances also increases one’s risk of cancer as it disrupts the body’s regular functioning.
Toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke, such as benzene, polonium-210, benzo(a)pyrene and nitrosamines, are known to damage our DNA and the cells within the respiratory tract, as well as other organs, such as the liver, pancreas, stomach, kidney etc.
Other chemicals present in cigarettes help toxins to stick to DNA better and interrupt the mechanisms for repairing DNA damage, which makes the damage more serious and more likely to cause cells to become cancerous (35).
Whether or not psychological stress can increase one’s risk of cancer (36), though it is a proven fact that the effects of stress on the body can aid cancer progression.
Stress hormones can stick to many types of cancer cells, which can help them move through the body and even help protect them.
Studies have shown that stress can negatively affect the immune system; the cells that seek and kill cancer cells can be disrupted.
Apart from a direct connection, people who are under mental and physical pressure develop health issues over time.
The body reacts to stress by producing hormones such as epinephrine and adrenaline that cause your blood pressure to elevate.
After a period of time, high levels of stress hormones can lead to serious health issues that may leave your body less able to fight off cancerous cells.
Although psychological stress and cancer have no direct link, stress affects other aspects of our life that may cause us to deviate from a healthy lifestyle.
People who are under a lot of mental stress tend to turn towards alcohol or drugs, and they tend to neglect their diet as well.
Such behaviors are a byproduct of stress and increase the risk of cancer.
Cancer isn’t just a disease that is caused by one’s lifestyle, diet, and activity.
It can also be influenced by external factors such as cell phone usage, certain drugs, and medication, marinating your meat, filtering tap water, etc.
Such simple precautionary measures might not ensure that you will be 100 percent free from the risk of cancer; they will at least ensure that your risk will be significantly reduced.
So here is a list of precautions that you can take to avoid being at a high risk of cancer.
Take Care of Wounds, Warts, and Pain
We usually brush off the pain that we feel in our body and take care of it by taking a painkiller.
We also do not give a second thought to a wound that doesn’t heal immediately or a wart that has just formed on our skin (38).
Since cancer is caused by the growth of abnormal cells and the invasion of cells beyond its usual boundary, sudden pain, and growth of mass can be a result of the development of cancer cells (39).
But paying attention to such things can help you discover whether you have cancer or not.
When you deal with such symptoms upon their discovery, you will be able to combat early signs of cancer and prevent it from being fatal.
Turn off Your Cell Phone
In these days of modern technology, most of us are glued to our cell phones.
But this constant usage of cell phones can increase our risk of cancer.
The radio frequency waves emitted to and from cell phones can be very harmful to the body, especially to the brain (40).
The emission of these radio frequencies waves is known to increase the risk of brain tumors and brain cancer.
Although there is no concrete proof that the usage of cell phones can directly cause cancer, studies have shown that excessive exposure to RF waves caused malignant tumors to form in small vermin such as rats and mice.
Due to the fact that the RF waves that are transmitted to and from the cell phones aren’t strong enough to cause DNA and cellular damage, there is a theory that prolonged usage of cell phones may cause the development of tumors (41).
Avoid Dry Cleaning Your Clothes
Dry cleaning your clothes involves using a solvent known as perchloroethylene (42).
According to research done by the National Academics of Science, this harmful substance can cause liver and kidney cancer as well as leukemia.
Although the people who actually dry clean the clothes are more at risk for being affected by this substance, the residue left on the clothes can also harm the customer (43).
So, other than avoiding “dry clean only” clothes, it is better to hand wash or wash your clothes in the machine on a gentle cycle.
It will preserve the fabric and prevent cancer.
Drink Plenty of Water
Hydrating your body has many benefits (44).
One of the major benefits of drinking plenty of water throughout the day is that it will help flush out any toxins that have accumulated in the kidneys (45).
This will help ensure that any cancer-causing agent is out of your system before it can do any damage.
As cancer is a collection of diseases that can affect different parts of the body, it has no general symptoms.
The best way to prevent cancer is to make sure that you have a regular health checkup and that you go to the doctors if you see any abnormalities in your body.
As mentioned above, cancer is a disease that is better cured by preventing it, as it can become fatal if allowed to advance to further stages.
Cancer treatment is costly and takes a great toll on your body and mind, as well as on those around you.
Take the preventive measures above to ensure that you lead a life that reduces your risk of a disease that has no certain cure.
If that isn’t enough to push you into making certain changes in your life, then be sure to look into chemotherapy costs to give you a little scare!