Every person on the planet fears getting cancer (and believe me, doctors are just as frightened as everyone else). But in a very dramatic way, we have made one major advance against cancer: We know, in many cases, how to prevent it. Actually, we really don’t have a way to prevent all types of cancers (yet!), but we’ve made great strides with specific cancers, most especially lung, colon, and skin cancers, all of which can be avoided to a great extent. Experts now think that lifestyle choices contribute to about 75% of all cancer cases. Here at WholeHealth Chicago, you will find general guidelines for avoiding all cancers, from getting regular screening exams that make early detection possible to increasing your intake of cancer-fighting antioxidants.
In cancer, something goes awry with the body’s internal code that regulates how and when each cell multiplies and also when it dies. What makes cancer cells dangerous is that they develop abnormally and then grow without control. A strong, healthy immune system is able to identify and eliminate both free radicals (the unstable oxygen molecules that can cause basic cellular damage) and most early cancer cells before they can do any further harm. A weakened immune system, however, loses its ability to detect abnormal cell changes and to destroy malignant cells, which can start to proliferate and spread. In the process, cancer cells cause serious damage to healthy tissues and organs, with grave consequences for health and longevity. Although conventional cancer treatments can be very effective, cancer is definitely a disease that’s better to prevent than to treat. And in fact, there’s plenty you can do. Because poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking and inadequate nutrition, play such an important role in the development of cancer, making some simple changes can accomplish a lot. Such preventive strategies as eating a healthy diet, avoiding excessive sun exposure, scheduling regular screening exams, exercising, taking antioxidant supplements, and above all, quitting smoking can greatly increase your chances of living a healthy, cancer-free life.
Abnormal bleeding or discharge
A lump or swelling in the breast, testicles, or other parts of the body
A sore or a scab that won’t heal
A change in a wart or mole
Unexplained increase or loss of appetite
Unexplained weight loss
Recurring indigestion or difficulty swallowing
Change in bowel or bladder habits
Persistent coughing, hoarseness, or sore throat; coughing up blood
Although exactly why cells become cancerous is unknown, the factors that can increase your cancer risk are very well documented. At the top of the list is tobacco. Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, and tobacco use in any form (smoking, chewing, or dipping) causes more cancers than any other risk factor.
Factors associated with other cancers include excessive exposure to the sun, which is a primary cause of skin cancer. A diet high in fat and low in fiber is associated with a higher incidence of colorectal, breast, and other types of cancer. Foods containing nitrates or nitrites, especially salty, pickled, or smoked foods, increase stomach cancer risk. Infection with the herpes simplex virus and the human papillomavirus plays a role in cervical cancer. A family history of certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and melanoma, is a risk factor for those cancers.
Other common cancer risk factors include environmental pollutants, radiation, excessive alcohol consumption, certain hormones, obesity, and high levels of stress.
Treatment and Prevention
Poor lifestyle choices play a role in an estimated 75% of all cancer cases, which means that a great many malignancies are potentially preventable. Cancer risk begins to decrease steadily once you quit smoking, and within five years is reduced by half. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet that’s low in fat and high in fiber, exercising regularly, and shielding yourself from the sun are some of the other key strategies you can adopt to lower your cancer risk.
While supplements will not compensate for poor lifestyle choices, they may still play an important role in cancer prevention. Especially beneficial are antioxidant supplements, which inactivate cell-damaging free radicals and help protect against a variety of specific cancers.
The successful management of cancer risk involves early detection as well as prevention. Perform monthly breast or testicular self-examinations, check your skin regularly for changes in moles and the appearance of new lesions. In addition, you need to schedule regular physical exams and cancer screening tests, such as Pap smears, mammograms, skin examinations, and colorectal tests.
Just a reminder: If you have a serious medical condition, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a program of supplements.
How Supplements Can Help
Your basic nutritional program should already consist of a high-potency multivitamin, plus 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E. Thus you’re already taking the three most effective cancer prevention antioxidants: vitamin C (preferably with flavonoids), vitamin E, and the mineral selenium (which should be included in your multivitamin). Vitamin C with flavonoids can help prevent several types of cancer, including lung, esophagus, stomach, bladder, cervix, and colon cancers. Vitamin E is associated with a reduced risk of breast, colon, prostate, and perhaps other cancers as well. Selenium has also shown promise in combating several types of cancer. Take these antioxidants together as part of a cancer prevention regimen.
To these, add green tea extract and grape seed extract. Both are powerful antioxidants that may help prevent many different cancers, such as lung, breast, stomach, colon, prostate, and skin cancers.
Flaxseed oil isn’t an antioxidant, but it contains lignans, compounds that appear to provide protection against breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
Consider adding as well the nutritional supplements coenzyme Q10, NAC (N-acetylcysteine), and alpha lipoic acid–all powerful antioxidants that also help fortify the immune system.
Recent studies have confirmed that consuming an adequate amount of calcium every day may help reduce your risk of developing colon cancer.
If you don’t eat a lot of fruits and vegetables every day, take carotenoids. These natural compounds, which give certain fruits and vegetables their red, yellow, or orange color, are effective cancer fighters. For example, the carotenoid lycopene, which colors tomatoes red, has been shown to provide protection against lung and prostate cancers.
Although the mechanisms are not entirely understood, calcium D-glucarate seems to help the body detoxify the effects of estrogens. And, while research findings are still preliminary, an increasing number of nutritionally oriented physicians are starting to recommend this supplement to women who believe they have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. (Despite its name, this compound is not a source of calcium.)
Finally, certain mushrooms, like shiitake and maitake, seem to have cancer-preventive properties.
Get supplement dosages and tips in our WholeHealth Chicago Supplement Recommendations for Cancer Prevention.
If you smoke or chew tobacco, stop immediately. Your cancer risk will begin to drop right away.
If you drink, do so in moderation–no more than one drink a day for women, two for men.
Maintain a healthy weight and eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fats and high in fiber. Consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains every day.
Engage in regular aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes every other day.
Protect yourself from excessive sun exposure, and apply sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater) when you go out into the sun.
Examine your body carefully on a regular basis. Perform monthly self-examinations of your breasts or testicles. Be on the lookout for any changes in moles or warts, sores that won’t heal, and the appearance of new skin lesions.
When to Call a Doctor
If you experience any of the symptoms of cancer for two weeks or longer, and there is no other obvious explanation for them
See your doctor regularly for general check-ups and cancer screening tests, such as Pap smears, mammograms, skin examinations, and colorectal tests.
From David Edelberg, M.D. at WholeHealth Chicago: You should be aware right up front that the supplements we recommend at WholeHealth Chicago aren’t cures, but their various benefits can complement conventional cancer therapies very effectively. If you are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy, check these recommendations with your doctor before you begin the regimen.
How to take the supplements
You can use all of these supplements with conventional cancer treatments. Just one note: Oncologists are in disagreement about the wisdom of taking antioxidants on the same days as chemotherapy treatments, so check with your own doctor.
The following nutrients help shield cells from free-radical attack and may also slow the growth of cancer cells: vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids (particularly beta-carotene and lycopene), NAC (N-acetylcysteine), selenium, and coenzyme Q 10. Carotenoids in particular help fend off a variety of cancers, including those of the prostate, digestive tract, cervix, and lung.
Many nutritionally oriented physicians believe a patient can become malnourished due to a declining appetite that often occurs during chemotherapy. Because this can effectively destroy the body’s cancer-fighting abilities, you need to make every meal as nourishing as possible. In addition, digestive enzymes can be beneficial because they enhance the absorption of nutrients. A high-quality soy-based protein powder helps insure that no amino acid deficiencies develop.
To build up your immunity during cancer treatments to help you fight off any lingering cancer cells, take an immune booster, such as echinacea, pau d’arco, or medicinal mushrooms. Each has been shown to be of benefit in limited studies. A sensible program might be to take one of them for about three weeks and then shift to the next.
Some studies have shown that the amino acid glutamine can be helpful in preventing and healing damage to the lining of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract caused by radiation and chemotherapy. Your best bet is to purchase glutamine as a powder. Capsules of glutamine are available but not as effective because no glutamine can reach the mouth or esophagus directly.
And finally, the herb ginger is a reliable remedy for nausea of any kind. If this is a problem for you due to chemotherapy, then consider taking ginger on a regular basis–in capsule form, as a tea, or even by chewing slices of raw ginger.
For special consideration
Preliminary studies have shown that certain herbs have value for specific types of cancers.The mushroom extract Coriolus versicolor (1,500 mg twice a day) has shown benefit for lung, stomach, and colon malignancies.
Some research findings suggest that the squalene and alkylglycerols found in shark liver oil (2,000 mg twice a day) may be useful in stimulating the immune system, helping to minimize cancerous growths. Important:
We at WholeHealth Chicago strongly recommend that everyone take a high-potency multivitamin/mineral and well-balanced antioxidant complex every day. It may be necessary to adjust the dosages outlined below to account for your own daily vitamin regimen. All of our supplement recommendations also assume you are eating a healthful diet.
Be aware that certain cautions are associated with taking individual supplements, especially if you have other medical conditions and/or you’re taking medications. Key cautions are given in the listing below, but you need to see the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for a comprehensive discussion of each supplement’s cautions and drug/nutrient interactions.
For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700 ext. 2001.
David Edelberg, MD