Preventing cancer is easier than you think

“Oh, good, I guess my gum is giving me cancer.”

I still remember this random conversation I had with a friend when we were about 15 years old. Her sarcastic comment came after she read the label on the sugar-free gum she was chewing, which read something to the effect of, “Ingredients in this product have been known to cause cancer in animals.”

I remember a more recent conversation with another friend, who said with equal parts acceptance and exasperation, “Well, everything probably gives you cancer nowadays, so it’s like why even bother changing your habits?”

It is both shocking and thoroughly depressing that we seem to accept cancer in society as just a given, a natural part of life. And yet we react with well-deserved horror and sadness when someone we love is stricken with it. There is a disconnect between the level of tacit acceptance we give cancer before it strikes and the shock we experience when it does. Still, it happens every day, to people who have done nothing to deserve such a scourge — because nobody deserves cancer, ever.

But the fact is, cancer doesn’t always just happen. More often than not, cancer can be prevented. And I don’t mean “prevented” in the medical marketing way that encourages you to ask your doctor if a laundry list of prescriptions and vaccinations are right for you, and not in the extreme way of running off to a remote island uninhabited by modern man to avoid the toxicities that abound in the industrialized world. No, it’s actually much simpler than that.

According to the Prevent Cancer Foundation, “Only 5 percent of cancers are hereditary. That means the non-inherited causes of cancer — the lifestyle choices we make, the foods we eat, and our physical activity levels — have a direct impact on our overall cancer risk.” Many of the biggest cancers we fear the most — breast, cervical, colorectal, skin, and lung — are sometimes entirely preventable.

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Fig. 1 via “Cancer is a Preventable Disease”

 

This may be common knowledge to some, but to me it was startling: Up to 95 percent of cancers are caused by lifestyle and environment, and there is much we can do to prevent cancer. Need more proof? Check out this research from 2008, published in the journal of Pharmaceutical Research and available via that National Institute of Health, that states in no uncertain terms that cancer is preventable; it’s even called “Cancer is a Preventable Disease That Requires Major Lifestyle Changes.” The article’s abstract makes the point crystal clear:

“Only 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. The lifestyle factors include cigarette smoking, diet (fried foods, red meat), alcohol, sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity, and physical inactivity. The evidence indicates that of all cancer-related deaths, almost 25–30% are due to tobacco, as many as 30–35% are linked to diet, about 15–20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentage are due to other factors like radiation, stress, physical activity, environmental pollutants etc. Therefore, cancer prevention requires smoking cessation, increased ingestion of fruits and vegetables, moderate use of alcohol, caloric restriction, exercise, avoidance of direct exposure to sunlight, minimal meat consumption, use of whole grains, use of vaccinations, and regular check-ups.”

It seems so simple, and yet this fact isn’t obviously apparent to most of us. And that’s what has me really steamed. I can’t help but feel we’ve been lied to, to the point where millions of people — like my friend who just accepts cancer as a part of life — feel completely powerless, helpless players in the Russian roulette of cancer. We hold our breath and hope it doesn’t happen to us, all the while maintaining the very lifestyles that make cancer possible … and we don’t even know we’re doing it.

The ways we are being lied to are myriad. A primary example can be found in my friend’s cancer-causing gum: The standard food-industry answer is that you’d have to eat truckloads of it every day to reach dangerous levels, so we are totally fine in having a stick or two every now and then. This may be true, but it’s only part of it. Sure, it may be virtually impossible to eat enough gum for it to give us cancer, what about the rest of our diet? How many other foods have the potential to cause cancer, and at what rates? Are certain people more susceptible than others, and if so, would we know? What about the other things we put in and on our bodies? What about the chemicals in our homes, in products we’re told are “natural,” in the very air we breathe?

Please understand that I’m not saying it’s our fault if we get cancer. Despite even the best of efforts, sometimes it does just happen — even to little children, who are the most innocent among us. Many forces are at work, the least of which being that we live in a toxic world where not everything is in our control. As I write this I can’t help but think of my dear aunt Lari.

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Lari was healthy in just about all respects, and she never smoked a day in her life — yet she battled lung cancer for six years before she passed away. Lari was born and raised in eastern Utah just miles away from a designated “downwinder” zone: areas and communities exposed to radioactive contamination and nuclear fallout from nuclear testing during the Cold War. If this is what caused Lari’s lung cancer, then yes, it was absolutely preventable, but it wasn’t her fault. Many environmental factors that cause cancer may be outside of our personal control, but they’re in somebody’s control. And those somebodies may not have had the science to understand the consequences then, but they do now — and so do we.

That’s the point I’m getting at: The knowledge is out there, and is becoming more readily available by the day. So, what are you doing to do about it? Do a little reading, make a few changes, take control of your health — or keep gambling with your life, hiding behind the excuse that there’s nothing you can do, that cancer is just part of life?

There’s certainly no guarantee that if you just live your life a certain way you won’t ever get cancer; but wouldn’t you rather do all you can to up your chances at a healthy, long, cancer-free life?

It all starts with a little knowledge and a desire to do better for yourself. Are you ready? Keep reading to get yourself going…

 

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What do you say, readers? Any other resources I should add?

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