Written by Komalpreet Kaur
Cancer—just the name itself is enough to scare you. It is estimated that nearly half of all Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime and is also responsible for 30% of all the deaths in Canada. Cancer brings misery of long term illness, treatments and fear of death with its diagnosis. There is no guarantee that cancer can be prevented but the risk of cancer can always be reduced.
Through research, a link has been established between physical and mental state and lifestyle factors that can help individuals avoid and survive cancer. We might attribute its origin to factors beyond our control but most of the time it’s a consequence of lifestyle habits.
“At least 50 percent of cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy lifestyle changes, and the percentage could be even higher,” says Dr. David Katz. Some basic and sustainable lifestyle choices can help us live a better and full life while avoiding life-threatening diseases.
Here are a few lifestyle modifications that you can implement in your daily life to reduce the risk of cancer.
- Avoid smoking
- Limit alcohol consumption and avoid illicit drugs
- Switching to a healthy diet
- Active lifestyle
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Managing stress
- Proper sleep pattern
- Regular medical care
- Avoid toxins
Smoking is a cause of about 72% of lung cancer cases in Canada. Smoking and vaping are forms of nicotine consumption that kill up to half of its long term users. Tobacco has been associated with not just lung cancer but it is now linked with 14 different cancers.
Our actions matter not just to us but also to the people around us. People exposed to extreme levels of passive smoke or secondhand smoke are at equal risk for developing cancers.
Exposure to secondhand smoke can be reduced by making your home smoke free and supporting smoke free workplace policies. The Canadian government has policies in place that prohibit smoking in indoor public places such as schools, restaurants, bars, casinos, public transit facilities.
(Source: Adapted from The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress)
Be a non-smoker, it’s never too late!
For help follow the link:
Or contact Smoker’s helpline: 18775135333.
Limit Alcohol Consumption and Avoid Illicit Drugs
The heavy consumption of liquor every day can increase the risk of cancer. No safe alcohol limits are known for now but it’s for sure that the more alcohol you drink, the higher the risk for developing cancer, especially for women.
Women who have a family history of breast cancer must reduce their alcohol limit to less than one glass a day as drinking alcohol leads to the release of extra estrogen in the body that heightens the risk of breast cancer.
You should also avoid any illicit drug addiction/habit that impairs the quality of life.
Switch to Healthy Eating
“Let food be your medicine”- Hippocrates
Plants and plant-based food items that can be consumed on a daily basis have been known through research to be a good source of nutrients with the ability to interfere with some processes of cancer development, in a manner similar to the action of many drugs that are used today. For example, sulphur compounds in garlic and vegetables from the cabbage family prevent the activation of carcinogenic substances and facilitate their elimination from the body, preventing DNA mutations and cancer development.
As recommended by the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRFI), you must make whole grains, vegetables, fruits, pulses (legumes) such as beans and lentils as a major part of your daily diet. WCRF suggests that an individual must eat 30g of fibre and 400g of fruit and vegetables every day. It not only protects you against cancer but also helps prevent weight gain and obesity
|Fruits and vegetables||Cancer they prevent|
|Cruciferous vegetables||Bladder, Lung, Prostate|
|Green Tea||Colorectal, Stomach|
Berries have anti-inflammatory properties
|Nuts||Breast, Colon, Prostate, Pancreas|
|Garlic and it’s family||Esophagus, Stomach, Colon|
|Seeds and Grains||Breast, Colon|
(Source: Preventing Cancer, Reducing the risks by Richard Beliveau & Denis Gingras)
As per the research conducted by the International Agency of Research on Cancer(IARC), it is evident that several dietary factors are associated with the risk of breast cancer. The data from the research suggests that alcohol, beer and cider intake in women increases the risk of breast cancer whereas a higher intake of fibre, apple/pear and carbohydrates was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.
WRCF recommends limiting the consumption of red meat (beef, lamb, pork) to approximately 1 pound (500g) per week, replacing it with meals based on fish, eggs or vegetable proteins. Red meat has a high caloric density and undergoes biochemical changes during cooking or preserving which results in negative impacts on health.
Replacing the red meat with fish, fowl, nuts and legumes can reduce the mortality rate from 20% to 7%.
Limit the intake of sweets, replacing artificial sweets with natural sources like fruit.
Some changes that can be made:
- Be a greengrocer: Shopping fresh vegetables and fruits
- Read labels on the back of packed food
- Limit eating out
- Limit salt intake in the diet
- Adherence to the Mediterranean diet
Physical activity is known to prevent and reduce the risk of various diseases and cancers. Adopt a healthy morning routine by taking a 10 minute morning walk or completing a small morning workout. Aerobic exercise can be incorporated in many forms ranging from a vigorous gym workout, to dance class or a simple stair climbing workout. Don’t forget to count your steps! Setting a step goal will encourage you to walk more.
Be sun safe: Using sunscreen when going out, especially during the middle of the day. You should also avoid using tanning beds and sunlamps.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Obesity is an invitation to diseases like diabetes, cardiac diseases and various carcinomas. Obesity and overweight conditions are assessed by anthropometric measures such as BMI and waist circumference. Excess weight is a result of eating too many calories and not burning enough calories. Eating a healthy diet and maintaining an active lifestyle helps to maintain weight within normal limits.
Stress is a burden on our body, mind and spirit that has the capacity to undermine our physical and mental health. It’s important to effectively cope with the stressors in our lives. If stress isn’t properly managed, it cancels the healthy diet benefits, disrupts sleep and can cause extreme levels of stress projected in the form of body aches. This impairs our health by reducing immunity against diseases and altering hormone levels in the body.
Some solutions to manage stress:
- Develop daily meditation practices
- Practice reflective writing
- Learn to say no and delegate tasks
- Make yourself a priority, focus on your health and practice self-care
- Cultivate gratitude
- Cultivate a positive frame of mind
- Learn what works for you to effectively manage your stress and anxiety
Proper sleep pattern
Thomas Dekker (dramatist) wrote, “Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”
Sleep is integral for the human body to function at optimal levels and proper rest is essential for anticancer living. It’s important to be well-rested to feel relaxed and energetic. Physical activity and sleep go hand-in-hand; exercising requires you to use energy which can help you fall asleep at night.
Some tips for a better night’s sleep:
- Have a regular sleep routine
- Avoid stimulating drinks such as caffeine, alcohol, beer, wine, etc. before sleep as these can delay sleep
- Using the bedroom only for sleep and intimacy and not using the bedroom for work or watching tv, etc..This way the bedroom can trigger/activate the receptors for sleep in our brain and the sole thought of a bedroom will induce sleep
- Comfortable clothing and a calm relaxing environment promotes sleep
Regular medical care
Make regular appointments with your doctor and ask about risk factors based on your family history. Also, ask about cancer screening.
- Colorectal Cancer – Men and women 50-74 must go for FOBT every two years
- Breast Cancer – Women 50-74 should go for a mammogram every two years
- Women 30-69 are at higher risk for breast cancer and should have a mammogram and MRI every year
- Cervical Cancer – Women who are or have been sexually active should start having a pap test every year at 21
- Always consult your doctor whenever your health changes
- Get vaccinated against HPV and Hepatitis B
- Consider your family history and be more cautious about health risks
You should avoid environmental toxins both at home and outside. Learn more about how to replace highly toxic products with less toxic ones. It’s also important to avoid the seven deadly poisons that cause endocrine disruption and also pose a serious risk for cancer development:
- Fire Retardants
- Vinyl Chloride
- Bisphenol A (BPA)
These toxins are commonly found in everyday products like body care products, makeup, laundry, car care products, etc.. Read the labels and know what you are buying. Know the products and chemicals you might be exposed to at the workplace. Carcinogenic products must be replaced with safer options.
Change is a journey and an optimum state of health is the destination. You can only reap the benefits of change within each factor if you make changes in more than one factor, considering they are all entwined. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.
(Some of the important information to complete this blog post was taken from the book Anticancer Living. To learn more and in-depth about lifestyle modifications to prevent cancer and how to survive cancer you can refer to this book.)