On the 7th of November, India observed National Cancer Awareness Day, shedding light on the widespread impact of cancer. As we reflect beyond this dedicated day, it’s crucial to grasp the gravity of this new health menace that has a huge correlation to our lifestyle. Globally, the rise in cancer cases reaffirms the urgency of adopting a balanced lifestyle, not only as a component of treatment but also as a formidable tool in the prevention of this lethal disease.
According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), one in ten Indians is diagnosed with cancer, with one in fifteen succumbing to the disease. The studies by the Indian Council Of Medical Research (ICMR) paint an even more alarming outlook, that by 2025, India may experience a seven-fold surge in cancer cases. This increase in cancer incidence is attributed to factors such as escalating air pollution, a rise in chain smokers, and sedentary lifestyles.
In this article, we will explore the broader landscape of cancer awareness, with insights into lifestyle changes that can strengthen the fight against this formidable adversary.
Prevention is better than cure!
Breast, Lung, Prostate, Liver, Thyroid, Cervical, Esophageal and Colorectal Cancers are some of the most common types of cancers globally. Preventing cancer is not as simple as singling out one specific food item as a problem maker. Also, there is no single food that can prevent its onset. That said, adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle significantly contributes to lowering the risk of several prevalent cancers.
Genetics and certain health conditions can influence cancer prevalence. Many a time, these factors are often beyond our immediate control. However, one aspect we can actively manage is our food choices. Opting for a nutritious diet and embracing a health-conscious lifestyle plays a pivotal role in reducing the risk of common cancers. Healthy eating not only serves as a preventive measure against cancer but also helps mitigate the likelihood of developing chronic conditions that are linked to increased cancer risk. The following lifestyle changes are key contributors to safeguarding against this deadly disease.
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10 lifestyle steps to reduce the risk of cancer
- Maintain a healthy weight – Overweight individuals often experience chronic low-grade inflammation which can create a pro-cancer environment. Inflammatory processes contribute to DNA damage and promote the growth of cancer cells. Being overweight and obesity are particularly associated with an increased risk of developing cancers such as breast, colorectal, ovarian, pancreatic, kidney, liver, and esophageal cancers, among others.
- Be physically active – Exercise has anti-inflammatory effects in our body and reduces the risk of inflammation-related cancers. Some research, such as a study in “Psychoneuroendocrinology” (2016), suggests that exercises may be linked to longer telomeres (the protective structures at the end of chromosomes, that are associated with DNA stability). They promote enhanced DNA repair, reducing the likelihood of genetic mutations and better cellular health. 30 mins of low to moderate-intensity exercises for 5 days a week is a great start.
- Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean protein
- Limit consumption of red meat and processed foods – There is strong evidence that consuming processed meat (sausages, ham, bacon, salami) increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Nitrite and Nitrate compounds added as additives to processed meat can form nitrosamines that are potential carcinogens. Sodium Benzoate, is yet another preservative added to acidic food which can form into benzene, a known carcinogen
- Limit consumption of sugar and sweetened beverages
- Limit Alcohol Consumption – When the liver metabolizes alcohol, it is converted into acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Acetaldehyde can cause damage to DNA and proteins, leading to the formation of abnormal cells that may contribute to the development of cancer. After cigarette smoking and excess body weight, alcohol consumption stands as the third major modifiable factor contributing to an elevated risk of cancer. According to research by the American Institute of Cancer Research, even consuming less than one alcoholic drink per day, irrespective of the type, heightens the risk of various prevalent cancers such as breast, head and neck, and esophageal cancers. Notably, a decrease in alcohol intake has been associated with a reduction in cancer risk. Various studies have shown strong correlation that consuming alcohol increases the risk of Breast Cancer, Colorectal Cancer, Esophageal Cancer, Liver Cancer, Mouth, Pharynx, and Larynx Cancer and Stomach Cancer
- Avoid smoking and chewing tobacco – Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, and at least 250 of them are known to be harmful, with more than 60 recognized carcinogens that can damage the DNA. Smoking is the leading cause of Lung cancer, apart from causing many types of cancer, including throat, mouth, pancreas, bladder, kidney, cervix, and stomach cancers. Chewing tobacco and using smokeless tobacco products expose the oral cavity and esophagus to carcinogens, increasing the risk of cancers in these areas. Tobacco also weakens the immune system, making it less effective in recognizing and eliminating cancer cells.
- Limit excess sunlight exposure – Prolonged and excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to mutations that may contribute to the development of skin cancers. While UV exposure is a known risk factor for skin cancer, moderate sun exposure is essential for the body’s production of vitamin D, which plays a vital role in bone health and overall well-being. Balancing the benefits of sunlight with protective measures is the key.
- Reduce inflammatory activities – Adequate Sleep, limit exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, pesticides, smoke and radiation
- Cut down on unhealthy fats – Focus on cutting down on the saturated and trans fats found in processed foods, fried items, and fatty meats. Instead, prioritize healthy fats such as monounsaturated fat found in avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from sources like fatty fish can also contribute to a lower cancer risk
Can cancer be prevented with diet?
There is no scientific evidence supporting any specific diet pattern that can cure cancer. However, a balanced diet will help the body repair itself and recover from treatment, improve the immune function and protect the healthy cells from damage
Antioxidants play a crucial role in reducing the risk of cancer by neutralizing free radicals in the body that can damage cells and DNA. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods, are rich in antioxidants such as Vit-A, Vit-C and Vit-E. They help prevent oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage, thus creating an environment less conducive to the development and progression of cancer.
Many of the phytonutrients (chemicals found in plant-based food) are also being studied for their cancer-fighting properties. Allicin (onions and garlic), Anthocyanins (blueberries), Carotenoids, Flavanoids, Isoflavones (Soy), Indoles (broccoli, cabbage), Lignins (whole grain and flaxseeds), Lutein (leafy vegetables), Lycopene (tomato), Phenolics (citrus fruits) are some of the phytonutrients that have purported antioxidant properties and reduces the risk of inflammation, oxidative stress to the cells of the body. However, there are no recommended dietary guidelines for these nutrients to fight or prevent cancer.
It’s crucial for individuals living with cancer to consult their doctors and dieticians for personalized dietary recommendations created for their specific condition and treatment plan to prevent malnutrition and aid recovery.
The role of the ketogenic diet in cancer has received a lot of emphasis in recent years and still remains an area of ongoing research. The ketogenic diet is characterized by a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, and moderate-protein intake, leading the body into a state of ketosis. Some hypothesize that cancer cells rely heavily on glucose for energy, and by limiting carbohydrate intake through a ketogenic diet, one may create an unfavourable environment for cancer growth. While some findings suggest the potential benefits of such a dietary approach, more robust clinical and conclusive research evidence is needed to establish clear guidelines.
It is extremely crucial for individuals already undergoing cancer treatment to discuss with their doctor while considering dietary changes. A ketogenic diet can be extremely stressful to certain organs and hence the suitability of such an approach, based on the organs involved in the cancer treatment, should be discussed with a medical practitioner. Besides, the inclusion of protein through animal food sources may be counter-productive and inflammatory in many cases (based on the quality and type of meat)
Numerous studies and research have proven that regular exercise is associated with a reduced risk of certain types of cancer. The American Cancer Society, World Health Organization, and other health organizations recommend engaging in regular physical activity for cancer prevention.
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Other Preventive Strategies
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects against several high-risk HPV types, reducing the risk of HPV-related cancers including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, and oropharyngeal cancers. Hepatitis B Vaccine is crucial in preventing HBV infection and subsequent liver cancer. It is often administered in infancy but can be given at any age. While there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, advancements in antiviral medications can effectively treat and cure Hepatitis C infection, reducing the risk of liver cancer associated with chronic Hepatitis C.
Programs and interventions to help individuals quit smoking or using tobacco significantly reduce the risk of cancers (lung, throat, mouth, esophageal, and bladder cancers) related to tobacco use. It’s important to follow recommended vaccination schedules and discuss with healthcare professionals to ensure you receive appropriate vaccinations based on your age, gender, and risk factors. These vaccinations not only contribute to cancer prevention but also provide broader health benefits by preventing infections associated with various diseases.
Can Supplementation Help?
Supplements generally do not provide protection against cancer or offer any significant benefits to survivors concerned about recurrence. In many cases, these supplements might pose potential harm, and may even interfere with medications. For example – antioxidant supplements, Vit-C, Vit-E etc may interfere with some chemotherapy drugs altering the effectiveness of these medicines.
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Is cancer a genetic disease?
Cancer is caused by changes in genes that control the way cells grow and multiply. In that sense, it is a genetic disease. This could occur due to two main factors – Hereditary (Inherited) gene mutation, or Somatic (Acquired) gene mutations.
Cancer in itself is not passed down from a parent to the child. However, certain genetic alterations that elevate the risk of cancer can be inherited if it exists in the egg or sperm cells of a parent. Examples of hereditary cancer syndromes include BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and Lynch syndrome associated with an elevated risk of colorectal and other cancers.
Somatic mutations occur in the DNA of individual cells during a person’s lifetime. These mutations can result from exposure to environmental factors, lifestyle choices (obesity, smoking), and exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and radiation that can cause errors in DNA replication.
If there is a familiar history of cancer, it is ever more important to adhere to a healthy lifestyle devoid of smoking and alcohol, follow a healthy diet and regular exercise, and maintain a healthy weight.
In conclusion, taking proactive steps is crucial in preventing and supporting those dealing with cancer. National Cancer Awareness Day reminds us of the pressing need to tackle this global health issue. A balanced diet, packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients, stands out as a practical tool against cancer. The rising number of cancer cases highlights the importance of lifestyle changes, especially in maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and minimizing exposure to environmental risks. Vaccinations targeting virus-related cancers and a cautious approach to supplements add to a comprehensive preventive plan. While genetics may play a role in cancer risk, our daily choices wield significant power in shaping our health. Every move towards a healthier lifestyle not only strengthens our defense against cancer but also enhances overall well-being. It’s a collective journey where awareness, nutrition, and practical choices come together to empower us in the battle against this deadly disease.
How can we help?
Navigate your nutritional needs during cancer treatment with our personalized approach. We will support you with the right calorie and nutrient intake—whether it’s maintaining or gaining weight. A well-balanced diet, incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, providing essential nutrients for overall health is the strategy towards reclaiming your health during or after the cancer treatment. Recognizing the importance of protein for maintaining muscle mass, supporting the immune system, and aiding tissue repair, include food like lean meats, dairy, beans, and nuts. Depending on individual situations, our healthcare team may recommend supplements to address specific nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamins, minerals, or nutritional shakes. However, the use of supplements and dietary planning requires nuanced consideration for individuals with cancer, as certain supplements may interact with treatments. Please note that this program is available only under the Privileged program category as it requires much nuanced and close monitoring. Prioritize whole, nutrient-dense foods, limiting processed foods and added sugars for overall health and well-being. Mindful eating is equally crucial, ensuring you enjoy your meals and maintain a healthy relationship with food throughout your cancer journey. Our team of dietitians, exercise experts, and psychologists will give you the right advice and support to wade you through this tumultuous treatment protocol.
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- Cancer incidence estimates for 2022 & projection for 2025: Result from National Cancer Registry Programme, India
- Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes
- Alcohol & the risk of cancer
- How does the sun & UV cause cancer?
- Carcinogenicity of food additives
- Red meat, processed meat & cancer
- The genetics of cancer
- Different Types of Cancer
- Cancer Incidence – Men Vs Women
- Supplements and cancer