Cancer Prevention Begins Now

Aug 26, 2004 11:28 AM EDT

What is cancer?

Cancer is unregulated growth of a particular cell type. It usually starts in one location, usually in one particular organ. If it spreads to other organs or to the bones it is called metastatic cancer.

The most common cancers are: cancer of the breast, uterus and cervix in women; cancer of the prostate in men; and cancer of the lung and colon in men and women.

What causes cancer?

Cancer is usually caused by damage to DNA. If critical DNA is damaged, certain cells can multiply without the normal restraints that would keep them limited. These cancer cells are different from other cells. They do not recognize or communicate normally with other cells. They can multiply beyond control.

What is the role of genetics?

There are certain genes that run in families that increase the risk for developing certain cancers. It has been estimated that approximately 5%-10% of all cancers are the result of a mutation (alteration) in a particular gene. These genes have certain names but can generally be called “susceptibility genes”. It is very important to recognize that having a susceptibility gene does not mean a person will develop cancer. It means that the person is at higher risk of developing a certain cancer than someone the same age without the gene.

Breast cancer as an example

Approximately 5%-10% of breast cancer cases (BCs) are hereditary and 15%-20% occur in family clusters. In the latter case, environmental and cultural factors may coexist with genetic factors, inducing higher rates of BCs in women of the same family. BCs may occur in men, although with a very low incidence rate. The gene that is best known for increasing the risk of breast cancer is the BRCA1 gene. When breast cancer seems to be running in a family, women in that family can be tested for that gene.

It has been recently been discovered that the risk of breast cancer for women who harbor mutations in the BRCA1 gene is significantly reduced among those who have breast-fed for a cumulative total of more than 12 months. The protective effects of breast-feeding seem to be much greater for BRCA1 mutation carriers than for women in the general population.

Genes are not the whole story

Genes can start acting up, triggering substances or conditions that may cause them to become active. They can be dormant for a long time or never become active if they are not exposed to certain conditions.

Cancer and aging

Cancer risk increases as people age. There are many reasons for this. Cumulative exposure to chemicals and metals increases with age. A person’s immune system is less effective. If a person develops cancer when they are over the age of 40 they can age very quickly. Part of managing and slowing the aging process is taking steps to decrease your risk of developing cancer. These will be discussed in the latter half of this article.

Environmental and chemical exposures

There are many things that might cause cancer and they are usually related to exposure to toxins, certain chemicals, heavy metals, pollutants in the air and water, as well as radiation. Exposure to certain bacteria and viruses can also predispose to cancer. The biochemical milieu of the cells is also very important and may be related to hormones and other internal cellular exposures that a person’s body is producing. Cancers linked to environmental causes make up at least 80% of all cancer cases, according to a recent report.

Cancer prevention tips:

You can be proactive and take a number of actions to prevent cancer.

• Stop smoking if you are a smoker. Smoking greatly increases a person’s risk for lung and other cancers, as well as increasing the risk for heart disease. If you are a smoker, seek the help of your physician to get into a program to stop your unhealthy habit—or try the Truestar smoking cessation plan.

• Exercise aerobically 5-6 days a week according to the Truestar guidelines for exercise. Aerobic exercise done 5-6 days per week for 30 minutes has been shown to decrease risk for certain cancers but especially cancer of the colon.

• Visit your doctor for regular cancer-screening procedures. This includes pap smears, mammograms and breast self-exams for women, and testicular self-exams for men. Both men and women should do screening for colon cancer. This includes stool exams and fiber optic scopes of the colon. Virtual colonoscopies can be done to screen for cancer and genetic tests that can be run on bowel movements are becoming more cost effective and more available as well.

• Choose organic foods. Organic foods are less likely to have heavy metal and pesticide contamination. They also will likely be tastier and have more mineral content.

• Eat from a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. The phytochemicals in colorful (green, orange, red, purple, etc.) fruits and vegetables have many beneficial properties.

• Try and eat daily from the cruciferous family of vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts or cabbage)—as these veggies have special phytochemicals that help decrease damage to DNA.

• Limit your intake of plastics. Try to avoid using thin plastic clear bottles as the plastic may leach out into the water. Do not leave plastic food containers in a hot car. Do not microwave with plastic.

• Limit your use of perfumes and makeup. If you like these, then go to a health food store to see which brand is considered the healthiest. Limit products that have sodium lauryl sulfate. Avoid antiperspirant as there is aluminum in it.

• Avoid mercury amalgam fillings. Mercury has toxic properties and should be avoided.

• Avoid exposure to pesticides, herbicides, on your own property and other properties, including golf courses. Buy environmentally safe materials to clean your home and to wash clothes.

• Do green remodeling or move into a green built home with special features for indoor air quality. Use low VOC paints, sealants, etc. to avoid exposure to toxins in the air that can adversely affect your lungs and immune system.

• Avoid food additives and colorings whenever possible.

Preventing cancer is very important for your health, quality of life and longevity. You can be involved on a personal level as indicated in this article and you can get interested in the quality and regulation of the food, air and water supply, and environmental waste disposal in your community and country. Making small changes each week can make the actions more manageable.