Cancer. It’s a word and a fear that appears constantly in today’s media. A terrifying prospect for the health-conscious, the overall rate of cancer diagnosis has gone up exponentially in the past century.
Why would this make sense in a world where we know more about the effects of diet and exercise, healthy living and mindfulness than at any other point in history? Why so much more cancer now? There’s a bigger answer out there: one that’s full of hope for the general public.
Traditionally, cancer risk factors have been divided into two categories: risks we can change or avoid, and risks that are unavoidable.
Ten minutes of Internet research will give you the basics of managing avoidable risks:
- Eat a healthy, well balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Eat your fiber.
- Avoid excessive red meat, refined sugar, and processed foods.
- Don’t smoke- or if you do smoke, enroll in a quitting program that will work for you.
Humans are creatures of habit, and changing some of these factors can be immeasurably difficult- especially if you try to do it on your own. The best bet is to join or form a community to help you achieve healthy lifestyle changes- which your physician can probably suggest.
Even small changes count to improve your overall health; all you have to do is find a way that works for you and make the commitment.
Unavoidable risk factors pose a different challenge. These aspects include:
Some cancers are linked to genetics- like the BRCA2 gene that identifies a trend to breast cancer in families through the maternal line.
https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/BRCA2 Healthy lifestyle choices count here- but the addition of early screening and DNA testing help to identify how much risk and what early interventions apply.
Getting older is a risk for many diseases and disorders- but how we maintain our bodies as we age makes a huge difference.
By The Numbers
In the past few decades the risk of contracting some form of cancer has risen worldwide from 1 in 3 to 1 in 2 people. This is a frightening trend- but requires a little background. Since the early part of the 20th century, the world’s population has increased by 4000%, from 1.8 million to 7.4 billion.
That’s a lot of people- check it out here: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
The surge is partially due to a larger birth rate overall, BUT- here’s the important part- we’re also living longer. In 1915, life expectancy was about 50 years of age for both men and women in the United States. Today, that number is creeping up and over age 80– so as a society, we’re doing something right.
More deaths are accumulating from cancer than from accidental death, infection, or contagious disease. Another essential bit of knowledge is that even though half of us will be diagnosed with some form of cancer (75% of whom will be over the age of 60), cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 20 years alone.
Early diagnosis is part of this and better cancer treatment is another. But the end statement remains the same: there is more cancer simply because there are more people.
Top Risks Worldwide
The single most deadly avoidable risk factor on Earth today is tobacco smoking. Lung cancer is the #1 killer globally, and 90% of those deaths can be directly attributed to smoking. In hard numbers, half of all smokers will be killed by their habit, and a quarter of smokers will die prematurely, between the ages of 35 and 69.
Coming in at 2nd and 3rd place for worldwide cancer deaths, stomach and liver cancer are both preventable through modern hygiene. With higher standards of health care and food preparation, infectious agents like hepatitis B and C ( which causes liver cancer) and Heliobacter pylori (causing stomach cancer) have much lower infection rates.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to implement a feasible cancer control strategy based on education in limiting tobacco, infection control, and healthy living ideals. A follow up project will instate an affordable cancer treatment program and palliative care standards. The problem is identified and much is being done to achieve an answer.
A Plan of Action
Education is the best weapon in this silent biological war. While not much can be done about genetics, and aging IS the ultimate goal of a healthy lifestyle, many daily habits can accrue into long term cancer free living. A great deal of cancer can be attributed to the unhealthy aspects of the sophisticated Western lifestyle.
Smoking and infection aside, choosing a daily routine that includes careful nutrition and activity is essential to not just staying cancer free but actually enjoying the life you have to live. By adjusting your diet even by small degrees, large benefits develop:
- In particular, restricting the consumption of refined sugar in high-calorie diets is extremely important, as obesity contributes to an overwhelming number of disorders- not just cancer.
- Processed refined foods- especially processed meats– elicit symptoms of systemic inflammation that prevent the body from functioning at peak performance.
- The addition of brightly colored fresh fruits and vegetables to any diet packs an immense punch against the development of cancer. They also assist the proper maintenance and replication of our DNA in growth and healing.
In fact, it has been suggested that consuming 500g (1.1lbs) of fresh fruits and vegetables daily can stave off digestive system cancers by a whopping 25%. In particular, a diet rich in plant sourced foods (while still employing healthy animal or fish proteins) is considered the best deterrent for cancers that affect epithelial cells. This would include those affecting the pharynx, larynx, lung, esophagus, stomach, colon, and cervix.
Taking Control of our Destiny
Chance plays some part in our genetic destiny, making us tall or short, shaping our faces or predisposing us to certain conditions. Your fate is not written in stone, and improvements can always be made to any lifestyle. Take charge of the facets of your life that you are able to. Be aware of those you cannot.
Listen to your body. New beginnings are often difficult, but after a very short time a sense of well-being will accompany and reward those changes. This is the only body you will ever have, and you deserve to be well-tended, healthy, and happy.