Did you realize that many cancers are turning out to be do-it-yourself diseases? What we eat and drink, where we live and work and what we breathe may well determine whether we become a cancer statistic. Today we want to talk about the good news of how to prevent cancer. Medical science continues to make strides toward earlier detection and improved treatments for many cancers. But these efforts are largely after the fact. The sad truth is that the overall death rates for many cancers continue to rise.
For example, one in four Nigerian lives are now being claimed by cancer. This trend, however, could be reversed. If we would simply take the precautions that we already know about, 70 to 80 percent of cancers could be prevented.Won’t people do just about anything to avoid such a terrifying disease? Almost anything, it seems, except change their lifestyles.
Take lung cancer, for example—the cancer that kills more men and women in developed countries than any other. We’ve known for fifty years that lung cancer is directly related to cigarette smoking, yet millions of people continue to smoke. Worldwide more and more people are using tobacco. And it’s not just lung cancer….
Close to ninety percent of the cancers of the lung, lip, mouth, tongue, throat, and esophagus could be prevented if people simply stopped using tobacco. It would also prevent half the bladder cancers. Overall, tobacco use is responsible for approximately one-third of all cancer deaths. But that’s not the whole story. By age sixty, smokers are ten times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than non-smokers.Thousands more smokers die by slow suffocation from emphysema.
People don’t realize that diet—what people choose to eat—relates to as many, or more, cancer deaths as tobacco. Most researchers now agree that 33% of cancers could be prevented with an improved diet,2 and others put the figure even higher.
Food? You may ask. How can food cause cancer? Is it because of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow and preserve our food? Carcinogens, which refer to cancer producing substances, are a concern, especially with the array of…additives, preservatives, flavor enhancers, pesticides, and other chemicals that are used in producing and marketing much of our food.
However, only two percent of cancers can be reliably linked to these substances. In contrast, evidence of the connection between cancer and such dietary factors as fiber and fat grows stronger every day. Compared with diets at the turn of the century, the average Westerner now eats…thirty-six percent more fat, and one-third less fiber. In areas around the world where fat intake is low and fiber consumption is high, there is a negligible incidence of the more common cancers such as colon, breast, and prostate cancers.
In countries such as the United States, Canada, and New Zealand, where diets are low in fiber and high in fat, rates for these kinds of cancers are much higher. How can things such as fiber and fat influence cancer? Not all the answers are in yet, but cancer is associated with carcinogens – chemical irritants that can produce cancerous lesions over time.
Bile acids are an example. The amount of fat in the diet affects the amount of bile the body produces. In the intestinal tract some of these bile acids can form irritating carcinogenic compounds. The longer these compounds stay in contact with the lining of the colon the more irritation results.
This is where fiber comes in. With a…low fiber diet, digestive material moves slowly through the intestines, often taking from seventy-two hours to seven days (transit time) to complete the journey from entry to exit. Fiber absorbs water like a sponge. This helps fill the intestines and stimulates them to increased activity. With a high-fiber diet our food travels through the intestines in twenty-four to thirty-six hours.
This helps the colon in two ways. It shortens the exposure to irritating substances, and it dilutes the concentration of the irritants because of fiber’s water-holding ability and insulating effect.
Could racial or cultural variations, rather than diet, account for these differences? Researchers have asked the same question. They have found, for example, that Japanese living in villages and rural areas have very few of these cancers.
Their traditional fiber consumption is high, and fat intake averages only 15 percent to 20 percent of the diet; half as much fat as Americans. But when Japanese migrate to America and other Westernized countries, and adopt Western eating habits and lifestyles, their rates for these cancers increase dramatically and soon equal those for Westerners.
What about other cancers?
A high fat intake depresses the activity of important cells in the body’s immune system. This effect has been studied extensively in connection with breast cancer and is believed to affect other types of cancer as well. A weakened immune system literally opens doors for many kinds of cancer to invade the body.
Alcohol is another important risk factor for cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the…liver, the esophagus and pancreas, and does so dramatically for those who smoke as well. Even moderate use of as little as three drinks a week may increase the risk, especially for women.
Twelve percent of cancers are found to relate directly to alcohol use. And this figure does not include the 50 percent rate of auto accident fatalities caused by drunk drivers each year. Another consideration is the havoc wreaked on individuals and families by alcohol use.
Skin cancers are increasing worldwide, and have been related to sunlight. Sunshine, in moderation, promotes health and strengthens the immune system. Excessive sun exposure, however, can produce two relatively harmless types of skin cancer – basal cell and squamous cell cancers. These grow slowly, and are usually discovered and removed before they have a chance to spread.
Melanoma is another story. This is the “black mole” cancer that spreads very quickly to other parts of the body. When it spreads, this cancer has a high fatality rate. If discovered early and completely removed, a near 100% cure can follow. Melanomas are believed to result from repeated sunburns.
Protection of the skin from burning is extremely important. This may be accomplished through wearing protective clothing, minimizing exposure outside during the strongest sunlight of the day (10:00 to 4:00), and wearing sunscreen.
Inactivity also appears to relate to cancer. There are over 100 kinds of cancer, so it’s hard to make a statement that covers the mall. However, so far researchers have found that those who log at least…four hours of exercise a week cut their risk of breast and colon cancer by more than a third.
Excess weight raises the risk of cancer. Obesity is spreading like an epidemic around the world, especially in countries where fast foods are introduced. A healthy plant-based diet and regular exercise will do a great deal to prevent this problem.
Since we all have to eat, the hardest lifestyle change for most people is in the realm of diet. The American Cancer Society recommends the following for maximizing a cancer-prevention diet.Choose most foods you eat from plant sources. People who eat largely of fruits, grains, and vegetables have the lowest rates of cancer…50% less than those who regularly eat meat but few fruits and vegetables.
The Cancer Society says this: “Many scientific studies show that eating fruits and vegetables protect against cancers.” They mention “especially green and dark yellow vegetables and those in the cabbage family, soy products, and legumes.” Limit your intake of high fat foods, particularly from animal sources.
The American Cancer Society warns, “High fat diets have been associated with an increase in the risk of cancer.” But are all fats bad? Nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados contain healthy plant fats. When possible, choose plant sources of fat. “Consumption of meat, especially red meat, has been associated with increased cancer risk.”
Those who fill up on hamburgers, French fries, doughnuts, sodas, and potato chips lose out on the cancer-fighting substances found in fruits and vegetables.
Don’t neglect your health. Participate in screening examinations. Early detection and treatment offer much higher survival rates, and may be lifesaving.
…no smoking, no alcohol, a high-fiber, low-fat plant-food diet, and normal weight …could prevent close to 80 percent of cancers found in Western society today. Instead of one in four dying of cancer, the risk could be reduced to one in twenty. It’s not an impossible dream.
1 Ludington – Diehl, Health Power, 2000, p.73
2 ACS, Cancer Facts & Figures 1999, p.29
3 Schatzkin A, etal. N Engl J Med 1987 May 7;316(19):1169-1173.
4 Schatzkin, Ibid.
5 Neil Nedley, Proof Positive 1999, p.44
6 ACS, Ibid.
7 ACS, Ibid.
8 ACS, Ibid.
9 ACS, Ibid.