Cancer is on the verge of overtaking heart disease as our number one killer. Nearly 1.5 million people were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2008, with 560,000 deaths. You can't completely eliminate your risk of getting cancer bad luck and time (*) are both factors.
That said: Cancer is understood to be primarily an environmental disease with 80-95% of cases due to environmental factors which can be controlled. The two keys are prevention and early detection. Prevention is better.
- Stop smoking: About 25-30% of cancers (and 90% of lung cancer) are directly caused by tobacco, which contains 50 known carcinogens. (*)
- Eat better: Poor diet and obesity are directly linked to 30-40% of cancers. You'll note that's more than smoking.
- Eat a lot more fruits and vegetables: Eating more vegetables and fruits which are naturally high in nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber is the second most effective way to reduce your risk of cancer, after not smoking.
- Eat cancer-preventing superfoods: These have the most vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavenoids, carotenoids, phytochemicals, and other compounds shown to reduce cancer risk. The 20 best are red and orange peppers, kiwi fruit, brazil nuts, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, strawberries, watercress, sunflower seeds, salmon, Brussels sprouts, virgin olive oil, cabbage, wholegrain bread, garlic, oranges, and spinach. (Details and recipes, PDF.)
- Eat a primarily plant-based diet: Vegetarians die from cancer at only about half the rate of the general population. Vegetarians have dramatically lower rates of breast, lung, prostate, and (especially) colon cancer.
- Don't eat red meats or processed meats (cold cuts, hot dogs, bacon): They contain known carcinogens and saturated fat. Daily red meat eaters have three times the colon cancer risk.
- Cut out refined carbs: Reduce or eliminate added sugars; and replace white bread, white pasta, and white rice with their whole grain equivalents. Bleached white flour products have all of the nutrients, healthy oils, and fiber removed. A diet high in refined sugars and starches may increase your odds of getting some cancers (such as kidney, pancreatic, and colorectal) three-fold. (*)
- Eat wild salmon or other oily fish, if you're not veg. If you are veg, eat flaxseed (either oil or milled) or walnuts, which contain similar inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids.
- Cook your food in extra virgin olive oil.
- Everyone likes red wine and dark chocolate.
- Consider eating some soy-based foods and/or green tea: Both contain powerful anti-carcinogens, such as lignans and flavenoids, and may be the cause of the lower cancer rates in Japan and lower breast cancer rates across Asia.
- Get regular exercise: You should get at least 30 (ideally 60) minutes of vigorous physical exercise on as many days as possible (seven isn't too many, but fewer than three is too few). (*) Regular physical activity reduces the risk of a host of cancers, including breast, colon, uterine, and prostate. (The benefits also go far beyond this slashing your risk of heart disease and stroke, the other two of our top three killers).
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity is clearly linked with breast, colon, uterine, esophageal, and kidney cancer. It raises the risk of a host of other cancers.
- Take a daily multi-vitamin: Consuming nutrients in natural food sources is more effective at lowering cancer risk. But an (ideally mega-) multi-vitamin will help make sure you're not missing cancer-fighting substances such as vitamin C, selenium, vitamin D, folic acid (B9), and beta-carotene.
- Limit your alcohol intake: No more than two drinks per day for men, and one for women. Alcohol is a known cause of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and breast. (*)
- Keep stress under control: Higher levels of stress are associated with higher risk of cancer. Consider meditation, yoga, or (again) regular vigorous exercise. Also take care to cultivate close and caring relationships with friends and family strong, supportive social networks protect enormously against the effects of stress. You're also really going to want to get enough sleep.
- Limit your exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals:
- Eat organic produce if possible (grown without toxic chemicals).
- Limit meat (especially red meat), poultry, and fish (which, higher up the food chain, concentrate toxins in the fat).
- Be careful around solvents, cleaners, glues, and paints and use nontoxic alternatives when possible.
- Get some sunlight but not too much! Sunlight on the skin produces vitamin D, which has been shown to protect against many types of cancer, including breast, colon, ovary, prostate, and lymphoma. On the other hand, skin cancer which can be caused by overexposure is particularly nasty. Get out before 10am, or after 4pm. At other times, cover up or wear sunscreen.
We'll cover early detection guidelines in a subsequent dispatch.Sources:
- American Cancer Society
- World Cancer Research Fund
- Wikipedia:Diet and cancer
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- The Cancer Project
- TRANSCEND - Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman (amazon.com, amazon.co.uk)