By Editorial Staff
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, December/January 2000.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates about 563,100 Americans will die of cancer and 1,221,800 new cancer cases will be diagnosed in 1999.
Environmental causes, such as lifestyle choices, account for 50 percent or more of all cancer cases. Of these, statistics indicate that dietary factors, along with obesity, account for 30 percent of cancer deaths. Tobacco smoke accounts for another 30 percent and is the largest known single carcinogen. A majority of cancer deaths are caused by choices we make in our daily lives. You can choose to lower your risk of cancer by following these tips.
1. Eat a healthy diet.
While some foods and cooking methods may encourage the development of cancer, others act as deterents. Red meat, animal fat and salt have been implicated as contributing to risk. The American Cancer Society recommends a diet high in plant-based foods and low in fat and meats. Betacarotene and vitamins found in fruits and vegetables have been shown to lower cancer risk. Isoflavinoids, found in soybeans, reduces the risk of hormone-related cancers. Fiber from plant foods aids in elimination of toxic wastes in the body and may also positively affect the risk of hormone-sensitive cancers.
What to do: Eat fruits and vegetables – 5 or more servings each day. Whole grain foods such as brown rice, breads, pasta – 3 or more servings. Fish, beans and soybean products. Limited amounts of dairy products and lean meats. Restrict intake of cured meats and salt. Cooking tips: Avoid frying in fat. When barbecuing, prevent fat from dripping into flame to prevent release of carcinogens. Cooking over a high flame may also form cancer-promoting substances. Eat vegetables raw or lightly steamed.
***Cancer risks from unhealthy diet: colon, rectum, prostate, esophogus, stomach.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Obesity (30 percent to 40 percent or more over normal weight) has been implicated along with diet as contributing to 30 percent of cancer deaths yearly.
What to do: Stay physically active. Balance your food intake with your energy output. If you’re overweight, seek the help of a diet counselor or support group. Drink 6-8 glasses of water each day and limit alcohol intake.
***Cancer risks of obesity: gallbladder, cervix, endometrium, ovary, rectum, uterus, breast, kidney, prostate, colon.
3. Don’t smoke.
Smoking is associated with approximately one-third of all yearly cancer deaths and is the cause of 80 percent of lung cancers.
What to do: Quit now – it’s never too late! Don’t smoke any type of cigarettes – all are addictive. Join a quit-smoking program or see a counselor for help. Substitute walks for cigarette breaks. Give yourself time to get over the addiction and seek the support of others.
***Cancer risks of tobacco use: lungs, throat, pancreas, kidney, bladder, cervix, prostrate, stomach, colon, rectum.
4. Exercise regularly.
Expenditure of energy is needed to balance out caloric intake and reduce the cancer risk from obesity. Exercise also contributes to overall good health and resistance to disease.
What to do: Try to include at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your day. Whenever possible, walk rather than drive. Choose a variety of exercises and activities you enjoy such as dancing, swimming, etc.
***Cancer risks lowered by physical activity: colon, rectum, breast, endometrium, prostate, kidney.
5. Limit intake of alcohol.
Alcohol consumption, especially combined with smoking, increases the risk of upper respiratory and digestive track cancers, contributing to about 3 percent of cancer deaths. Liver cancer frequently develops from alcoholic cirrhosis.
What to do: Limit yourself to one or two alcoholic drinks per day. Switch to water or non-alcoholic drinks at mealtime or at parties.
***Cancer risks of alcohol: liver, breast, colon, rectum, mouth, throat and esophagus.
6. Protect your skin.
Skin cancer is more common than any other organ cancer, and affects about one out of seven Americans. Skin cancer from sun exposure can form even with the use of sunscreens. Tanning booths are even more dangerous, emitting a large amount of UVA radiation. Sunless tanning products may also contain chemicals harmful to the skin.
What to do: Avoid direct sunlight from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Use sunscreen (15 SPF or higher, 30 is better) applying at least 1 oz. to exposed areas every two hours. Use hats and long-sleeved shirts and seek shaded areas. Avoid tanning booths and sunless tanning products.
***Cancer risks of excessive sun exposure: skin
7. Avoid chemicals.
Air pollution may increase the risk of lung cancer, especially for smokers. Common pollutants in the workplace and home that may contribute to cancer risk include benzene, diesel exhaust and pesticides. Chemical residue on foods or accumulated in animal organs may also increase risk.
What to do: Buy organic fruits and vegetables. Scrub produce and rinse under running water. Limit exposure to exhaust fumes, paints and pesticides.
***Cancer risks: primarily lung.
For More Information
American Cancer Society – 800/ACS-2345
American Institute for Cancer Research – 800/843-8114
University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center – www.oncolink.upenn.edu
Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention – www.hsph.harvard.edu/cancer