Cancer. This one little word represents one of the most feared diseases in the United States. And with good reason, the statistics are scary. According to the American Cancer Society, 1:2 men and 1:3 women living in the United States will develop some sort of cancer during their lifetime.
All cancers begin by the rapid multiplication of a single mutated cell. But research has yet to pinpoint exactly what causes certain types of cancer to develop. If one specific cause could be identified, prevention and treatment would be simple. It is believed, however, that most cancers are caused by the combination of two or more risk factors over a long period of time. These risk factors can be broken into 4 main categories:
l Genetics and family history
l Environmental exposures
l Lifestyle choices
l Obesity and diet
Most people believe that a family history of cancer means their own risk of developing cancer is practically inevitable. Research has shown that genetics accounts for only 5-10% of a person’s total cancer risk. This means the vast majority of cancers are NOT inherited.
Environmental exposures account for 25% of a person’s risk of developing cancer. Repeated exposure to hormones and pesticides in foods, household cleaners, secondhand smoke, and toxins in the air, soil, water, and workplace contribute to this risk.
30% of a person’s overall risk of developing cancer has been linked to his or her lifestyle choices. While smoking is the number one cause of cancer, alcohol consumption and physical inactivity have also been shown to increase cancer risk. Moreover, not smoking, consuming little to no alcoholic beverages, and consistent physical activity can decrease the risk of developing cancer.
35% of a person’s total risk factor is linked to diet and obesity. Increasing evidence suggests that carrying excess body weight not only raises the risk of developing cancer, but also raises the risk of cancer recurrence and lowers the chances of survival for many types of cancer.
With an overwhelming 65% of a person’s total risk of developing cancer attributable to diet, obesity, and unhealthy lifestyle choices, a cancer diagnosis can no longer be seen as a horrible twist of fate. Rather, this should be translated to mean that each person has control of 65% of his or her overall cancer risk. By eating a healthy diet, maintaining a proper weight, staying physically active, and not smoking, it is possible to considerably reduce the odds of developing cancer.
In response to increasing evidence that a healthy lifestyle can decrease overall cancer risk, organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have published guidelines for what is now believed to be a cancer-preventative lifestyle. They include:
l Eating 5 or more servings of colorful fruits and vegetables every day.
l Select whole grain breads and cereals over those made from refined grains.
l Limit the consumption of red and processed meats. When possible, replace them with lean meats.
l Replace regular milk and dairy products with low-fat versions.
l Limit daily intake of salt, saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, and sugar.
l Avoid sugary juices and carbonated beverages.
l Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages.
l Control your portion sizes.
l Exercise for 30-40 minutes five days a week.
l Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
l Stop smoking.
A healthy diet and daily exercise cannot prevent a person from ever developing cancer. But even modest changes have been shown to have a positive effect on fighting cancer, both during its initial development in the body and during treatment. It is possible that by making only dietary and lifestyle changes, 20% of the American population currently expected to receive a cancer diagnosis could instead live their entire lives without ever being diagnosed with cancer.
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