Everyday Ways to Prevent Cancer
By Leslie Vandever
February is National and World Cancer Month—observations meant to increase public awareness of cancer, cancer prevention, and cancer research. And Tuesday, Feb. 4 is National Cancer Prevention Day.
Even today, with the incredible scientific and medical advances that have taken place over the last hundred years, cancer remains one of the most frightening—and deadly—diseases we face. Fortunately, we’ve gotten much better at treating and even curing some types of cancer, some of the time. Unfortunately, a definitive cure for all cancers remains beyond our reach.
What is cancer?
Simply, “cancer” is the word for a group of diseases in which the cells—the body’s basic unit of life—develop abnormally and do not die when they should because of a mutation in their DNA. Instead, out of control, these “malignant” cells divide and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymph system.
Sometimes mutated cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumor. It’s considered “benign” if it doesn’t spread to other parts of the body, can be removed, and doesn’t come back.
There are more than 100 different types of cancer. In many cases, what starts, or triggers, cells to mutate abnormally and spread is unknown. But scientists have been able to pinpoint some possible triggers for some forms of malignant cancer—and by avoiding or controlling those triggers, you can reduce your odds of contracting the disease.
What steps can you take toward cancer prevention?
- Don’t use tobacco. If you do, stop. Smoking has been linked to cancers of the lung, bladder and kidneys. Chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the oral cavity and pancreas.
- Eat healthy. Choose a diet rich in plant-based foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes and whole grains. Limit fat, particularly fat from animal sources. Avoid sugar. Foods that are higher in fat and sugar (and calories) contribute to obesity, which can cause cancer.
- Avoid becoming overweight or obese. Maintaining a healthy weight for your age, height and build might help to prevent cancer. Obesity has been linked to cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney.
- Exercise. Regular exercise helps to maintain overall health, helps to control your weight and might protect against breast and colon cancer.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Many types of skin cancer are linked to the harmful ultraviolet rays in the sun. Use sunscreen liberally and wear tightly woven, loose-fitting clothes in bright or dark colors to protect exposed skin. Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And avoid tanning beds and sunlamps—they’re just as damaging as natural sunlight.
- Cancer screening. Mammograms, PAP smears, breast and skin exams, and colorectal screening can catch precancerous conditions early. By finding abnormal cells and treating or removing them, some cancers can be prevented. They include cervical cancer, breast cancer and some skin cancers.
- Chemoprevention. The vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the hepatitis B vaccine can prevent certain types of cancer. There are also medications can treat some pre-cancerous conditions and keep them from developing into a malignant form.
Other steps you can take include limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and avoiding risky behavior. HPV and HIV infections, which can make you more susceptible to liver, cervical and other cancers, can be prevented by never sharing needles and practicing safe sex: limiting the number of sexual partners you have, and using condoms. Finally, visit your doctor at least once a year for preventive screening and an overall health checkup.
For more information about cancer and other health issues, click here.
Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer. Under the pen-name “Wren,” she also writes a blog about living well with rheumatoid arthritis called RheumaBlog (www.rheumablog.wordpress.com). In her spare time, Vandever enjoys cooking, reading and working on the Great American Novel.
- What is Cancer? (2013, Feb. 8) National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on January 26, 2014 from http://www.cancer.gov/
In honor of National Cancer Prevention Day, please consider making a donation to the T.J. Martell Foundation by clicking here. The Foundation funds cutting-edge research that will lead to clinical trials and drug discoveries that will help save lives!