Harvard Health states, “About one of every three persons will develop some form of malignancy during his or her lifetime.” CDC states, “Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the Caribbean.” Despite these grim statistics, doctors have made great progress in understanding the biology of cancer cells, and they have already been able to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
But instead of just waiting for new breakthroughs, you can do a lot to protect yourself right now. Screening tests can help detect malignancies in their earliest stages, but you should always be alert for symptoms of the disease. The American Cancer Society developed this simple reminder years ago - symptoms you should note:
C: Change in bowel or bladder habits
A: A sore that does not heal
U: Unusual bleeding or discharge
T: Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere
I: Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
O: Obvious change in a wart or mole
N: Nagging cough or hoarseness
It is a rough guide at best. The vast majority of such symptoms are caused by nonmalignant disorders, and cancers can produce symptoms that do not show up on the list, such as unexplained weight loss or fatigue. But it is a useful reminder to listen to your body and report sounds of distress to your doctor.
Early diagnosis is important, but can you go one better?
Can you reduce your risk of getting cancer in the first place? It sounds too good to be true, but it is not. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate that up to 75% of cancer deaths can be prevented. Thus, a list was created by Harvard Health and christened the “10 commandments of cancer prevention”:
1. Avoid tobacco in all its forms, including exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is thought to cause more than 7,000 deaths from lung cancer each year. Most exposure to secondhand smoke occurs in homes and workplaces.
2. Eat mindfully. Reduce your consumption of saturated fat and red meat, which may increase the risk of colon cancer and a more aggressive form of prostate cancer. Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
3. Exercise regularly. Physical inactivity has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. Exercise also appears to reduce a woman's risk of breast and reproductive cancers.
4. Stay lean. Obesity increases the risk of many forms of cancer. Calories count and so does knowing the Glycemic Index (GI) of foods. The glycemic index is a measure of how fast carbohydrates turn into sugar in the blood and helps us tell the good from the bad. A study of 3,100 people, presented at the 2016 Experimental Biology forum, found that consuming foods with a high GI (70 or higher on the 100-point GI scale) was associated with an 88% greater risk for prostate cancer. High-GI items include sugar-sweetened soft drinks, fruit juices, and processed foods like pizza.
5. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to an average of one drink a day. Excess alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, larynx (voice box), oesophagus (food pipe), liver, and colon; it also increases a woman's risk of breast cancer. Smoking further increases the risk of many alcohol-induced malignancies.
6. Avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation. Get medical imaging studies only when you need them. Protect yourself from ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, which increases the risk of melanomas and other skin cancers. But do not worry about electromagnetic radiation from high-voltage power lines or radiofrequency radiation from microwaves and cell phones. They do not cause cancer.
7. Avoid exposure to industrial and environmental toxins such as asbestos fibers, benzene, aromatic amines and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
8. Avoid infections that contribute to cancer, including hepatitis viruses, HIV and the human papillomavirus. Many are transmitted sexually or through contaminated needles.
9. Make quality sleep a priority. Admittedly, the evidence linking sleep to cancer is not strong, but poor and insufficient sleep is associated with weight gain, which is a cancer risk factor.
10. Get enough vitamin D. Many experts now recommend 800 to 1,000 IU a day, a goal that's nearly impossible to attain without taking a supplement. Although protection is far from proven, evidence suggests that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer and other malignancies.
Research supports: Cancer prevention is often a matter of lifestyle
Harvard researchers examined four main lifestyle areas that are associated with health status: smoking, drinking, weight and exercise. They looked at 46,000 men over 26 years and classified about 12,000 as a low-risk group because they engaged in defined healthy behaviour in all four areas—they did not smoke, drank moderate amounts of alcohol (no more than two servings per day), had a body mass index of 18.5 to 27.5, and engaged in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
When they compared these men with others who did not meet these standards, the researchers discovered that men could avert or delay 67% of cancer deaths and prevent 63% of new malignancies each year. In terms of specific cancers, men could reduce incidence of bladder cancer by 62%, prostate cancer by 40% and kidney cancer by 36%.
"Of course, maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires behavioural change, and for many people, that means work," says an oncologist at Harvard-affiliated Cancer Institute.
If you've been thinking of healthy living as "work," then it's time to put it at the top of your to-do list. There are no guarantees in life, and preventing cancer is no exception. But while lifestyle changes may not provide you with a confident guarantee, there is no question that they will reduce your risk!
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