On 4th February, we celebrate World Cancer Day, a day that has become one of the largest international health campaigns, a day that unites people, communities, and entire countries to raise awareness and take action. I think I can safely say that if we haven’t been touched by cancer personally, we all know someone very close to us who has.
Every one of our actions, big or small, can make lasting, positive change. On this day, we can all pause and reflect about our actions and our choices, and the kind of impact they can make. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 30-50% of all cancer cases are preventable which begs the question, why are there no public health information ads on TV and social media from the Department of Health about how to prevent cancer through diet and lifestyle? Yes, you may see the odd leaflet or two floating about in your local GP surgery, but cancer affects 1 in 2 people.
There needs to be a concerted public health campaign to help people understand the cancer risks so that they can reduce the likelihood of getting cancer. We see ads on the TV stating if you’ve had a cough for more than three weeks, or if you have a change in your bowels for more than three weeks, go and get checked out by your GP, but what about nipping things in the bud, before symptoms appear? A debate for another day…
Studies show that the development of a cancer generally requires many steps, each governed by multiple factors – some dependent on the genetic constitution of the individual, others dependent on his or her environment and way of life. We know that there is a link between cancer and inflammation. Some would say that cancer is end-stage inflammation. It highlights, therefore, the importance of correcting any chronic inflammatory disease in the body before it’s had chance to morph into cancer. You can read more about the science behind the link between inflammation and cancer in this paper.
Despite the complexity of factors and their interplay that lead to cancer, the evidence unequivocally suggests that there are measures that can be taken to reduce risk .
Let’s look at some of the simple behaviours that can go a long way towards improving your health and lowering your risk of many cancers, as well as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Even small changes can have a big impact.
So, take control of your health, and encourage your family to do the same. Choose one or two of the steps below to start with. Once you’ve got those down, move on to the others.
Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for lung cancer. It has also been linked to many other types of cancer, including cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, pancreas, bladder, cervix, and kidney. Even being around second-hand smoke might increase the risk of lung cancer.
But it’s not only smoking that’s harmful. Chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, and pancreas. Staying away from tobacco, or deciding to stop using it, is an important way to help prevent cancer.
Eat a healthy diet
Although eating healthy foods can’t ensure cancer prevention, it might reduce the risk. Consider the following:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables – base your diet on fruits, vegetables, and other foods from plant sources, such as whole grains and beans. Eat lighter and leaner by choosing fewer high-calorie foods. Limit refined sugars and fat from animal sources.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all – alcohol increases the risk of various types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, lung, kidney, and liver. Drinking in excess increases the risk.
- Limit processed meats – eating processed meat often can slightly increase the risk of certain types of cancer. This news comes from a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.
- Eat a Mediterranean diet – people who eat a that includes extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts might have a reduced risk of breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet focuses mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. People who follow the Mediterranean diet choose healthy fats, such as olive oil over butter. They eat fish instead of red meat.
Take your probiotics
Probiotics may help lower your risk for several cancers. Probiotics help your immune system function at its best so it can detect and kill cells that can become cancer.
Much of the probiotics research focuses on colon cancer because most microorganisms live in your intestinal tract, and while research is ongoing, a number of studies have found that probiotics can have several favourable effects that may be especially beneficial for cancer patients. These include:
- Reducing the frequency and severity of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea
- Alleviating abdominal pain and bloating caused by irritable bowel syndrome
- Improving immune system function
- Relieving anxiety, stress, and depression
In short, the use of probiotics can play an important role in cancer prevention and support anti-cancer therapies. You can read more in this paper here.
Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active
Being at a healthy weight might lower the risk of some types of cancer. These include cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, colon, and kidney.
Physical activity counts too. Besides helping control weight, physical activity on its own might lower the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer.
Doing any amount of physical activity benefits health. But for the most benefit, strive for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of hard aerobic activity.
You can combine moderate and hard activity. As a general goal, include at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine. More is better.
Protect yourself from the sun
Skin cancer is rapidly on the increase and is one of the most preventable kinds of cancer. Try these tips:
- Avoid midday sun – stay out of the sun between 10am and 4pm when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Stay in the shade – when outdoors, stay in the shade as much as possible. Sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat help too.
- Cover your skin – wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Wear bright or dark colours, as they reflect more of the sun’s harmful rays than do pastels or bleached cotton.
- Don’t skimp on sunscreen – use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Apply a lot of sunscreen. Apply again every two hours, or more often after swimming or sweating.
- Don’t use tanning beds or sunlamps – these can do as much harm as sunlight.
- Stay on top of your screenings.
Doing regular self-exams and having screenings for cancers, such as cancer of the skin, colon, prostate, cervix, and breast can raise the chances of finding cancer early. That’s when treatment is most likely to succeed. The UK has 3 screening programmes (bowel cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer).
Screening saves thousands of lives each year. It can detect cancers at an early stage and in some cases, even prevent cancers from developing in the first place.
If you haven’t had a screening invitation when you think you should, contact your GP surgery. If you have lost your screening invitation letter or missed a screening in the past, you can still take part in screening. If you aren’t registered with a GP, you can find a local GP in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
If you have any questions about a digestive and gut health issue, or would like to know more about our supplements, please get in touch.