After a certain age, every person fears getting cancer (and believe me, doctors are just as skittish as everyone else!). Being told, “I’m sorry you have cancer,” or “we need to find you a good oncologist,” is a moment you will remember forever. You leave the doctor’s office stunned by this information, wondering “how long have I got?”, and “what could I have done to prevent this?”.
The “how long?” often surprises people. With new advances in treatment, cancer patients are doing quite well these days.
The “what could I have done?” issue, and cancer prevention in general, is a major failing of the health care system. Painful as it is to say this, there’s no money in prevention. “Serious money” in health care is in cancer diagnosis (scoping, scans, surgical procedures) and cancer treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy). Yet most health insurance doesn’t cover genetic testing, nutritional counseling and the newer screening tools like Galleri; Walgreens still is a huge distributor of cigarettes; your kids are still eating brightly colored, sugary edibles that are likely carcinogenic chemicals.
We actually do know how to prevent most cancers; we just aren’t. You can look to the health care system for some, but not a lot of, guidance.
Let’s begin with some basic facts:
- Although steadily rising throughout the 20th century, the incidence of cancer seems to be leveling off, probably through smoking reduction and less exposure to significant carcinogens (cancer causing materials). Still, one person in three can expect to get cancer some time in their lives (up from one in four just twenty years ago).
- Cancer cells are always being formed in our bodies, but in normal circumstances are immediately destroyed by our immune systems. When some factor (advancing age, disease, toxins, our emotions) suppresses our immune systems, our risk for allowing cancer cells to multiply vastly increases. So maintaining healthy immune systems becomes a ‘given’ in your body’s milieu of cancer prevention tools.
- Our exposure to chemical substances never designed to be in our bodies has increased to the point where scientists truly have no idea what’s dangerous and what’s not. Moreover, two or more allegedly ‘safe’ chemicals can combine together and produce a third that may be quite dangerous.
- In summary, it is believed our bodies are being steadily challenged by known (or unknown) carcinogens. These accumulate in our cells because we never developed systems to efficiently detoxify them. Then, at some point, our ‘poisoned’ cells undergo change, somehow escape the watchful eye of the immune system, and begin growing out of control. This is cancer. If this situation weren’t bad enough, it’s just when we need it the most that our immune system falters and the cancer cells continue to grow and spread relentlessly.
Therefore, the formula for cancer prevention sounds fairly simple: avoid exposing yourself to cancer causing materials AND keep your immune system in its best possible shape.
If only life were that simple! If only we were certain what substances actually cause cancer; what dangerous substances accumulate in our bodies; what causes trouble. If only we had worldwide governmental systems in place to totally ban the manufacture of cancer causing substances instead of caving in to ‘economic interests’. If only we knew exactly how to strengthen our immune systems and those systems that clear toxins from our bodies.
Well, we do have some ideas. For example, we really don’t have a way to prevent all types of cancers (yet!), but we’ve made great strides with specific cancers. Most lung, colon, and skin cancer can be avoided. But as far as preventing kidney or pancreas or brain cancer, we’re still in the dark.
This Health Tip will offer some general guidelines for avoiding hearing a cancer diagnosis for yourself or a loved one.
What’s Your Risk of Cancer?
- Does cancer run in your family, especially among your first degree, blood relatives? If you are from a cancer prone family, I would pay special attention to avoidance of all carcinogens listed below and schedule the recommended screening tests (mammograms, colonoscopies, etc.). After age 50, consider the new Galleri test, which can detect fifty types of cancers in your body well before any symptoms appear.
- Do you smoke or chew tobacco or are you exposed to passive smoke? All three escalate your cancer risk.
- Do you have at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially pesticide and herbicide free (organic) daily? Doing so will reduce your cancer risks considerably.
- Do you consciously avoid exposing yourself to direct sunlight for extended periods of time, especially if you are fair skinned? Everyone knows this reduces your skin cancer risks. Malignant melanoma can be brutal if it metastasizes.
- Do you consciously make an effort to avoid exposure to chemicals, of any kind, especially food additives, chemical fumes, solvents, and cleaning solutions? The dangers of these are totally understated by the government, although you’ll read about lawsuits being filed against companies when it’s been discovered how high rates of cancer are found nearby.
- Do you consciously avoid ‘ultra-processed’ foods? A recent study showed that a diet high in these foods led to increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
- Have you made an effort to reduce the sugar and saturated fats in your diet?
- Do you exercise regularly to keep your body in shape? Many studies have correlated higher levels of physical activity with lowering cancer risk.
- Do you feel reasonably content with job, family, and relationships?
- Does your workplace expose you to any known carcinogens, and if so, are adequate safety precautions taken to reduce exposure?
- Did you know about the guidelines for cancer screening, like PAP smears, mammograms, skin and mouth examinations from the US Preventive Services Task Force? Note: Many physicians are unaware of these and there are those that disagree with their recommendations.
- Are you taking nutritional supplements? A definite point of contention among physicians whether or not supplements prevent cancer.
In my opinion, the current American diet is so nutritionally depleted that many of us are susceptible to a variety of cancers simply by eating too many processed and ultra processed foods. The list below will help plug up the holes, so to speak, in your deficiencies.
These recommendations assume you are already on the Basic Nutritional Program of:
- Pure Encapsulations ONE , one a day (a high potency multiple vitamin also containing cancer preventives selenium, lipoic acid, Co Q 10, lycopene);
- Integrative Therapeutics Buffered Vitamin C, 1,000 mg./day;
- Klaire Labs Green Tea Extract, twice a day (potent antioxidant);
- Integrative Therapeutics Theracumin HP, twice a day (anti inflammatory);
- Integrative Therapeutics Detoxication Factors (supports liver detoxification processes), twice a day;
- Integrative Therapeutics or Gaia Herbs Resveratrol, once a day (potent antioxidant);
AND EAT RIGHT
The amount of data linking poor nutritional habits to cancer is staggering and continues to grow. With the exception of stopping smoking, no single step you take has such a potentially positive effect on cancer prevention than healthful eating. Nutritional habits are felt to contribute to cancer development in 60% of women and 40% of men.
Here Are Some Immediate Steps For Your Next Mouthful:
- Have at least five full servings of fresh vegetables and fruit every day. I do recommend you purchase pesticide and herbicide free organic foods. The Environmental Protection Agency itself has stated that pesticides represent the major cancer causing chemicals we are most exposed to. Why eat them with your apple?
- Use only whole grains (avoiding food made with refined white flour). Although the studies are mixed concerning high fiber of whole grains and how it will help protect you from developing colon cancer, its opposite, refined white flour, has absolutely no health benefits, converts to glucose and increases diabetes risks.
- Substitute chemical foods (like diet colas, processed foods, fast and junk foods) with their whole food counterpart. Fresh fruit and vegetable juice or green tea as your beverage, instead of sugary chemical soft drinks.
- Avoid excessive grilling of your foods on outdoor grills (the smoke contains cancer causing elements).
- Dramatically reduce the saturated fat in your diet; replace with polyunsaturated fat.
- If male, allow yourself one or two alcoholic drinks per day. If female, no more than one.
- Eat lots of tomatoes and tomato sauce for lycopene.
- Really, really, really avoid refined sugar and sugar-y products.
- Avoid fried foods, nitrate containing foods (sausages, cold cuts), peanuts and peanut butter (unless organic), and smoked foods.
- Women should eat more soy based products.
- Eat less red meat (especially overcooked red meat) and eat more fish.
- Use olive oil as your spread instead of butter or margarine.
Try To Avoid These Environmental Factors
- Air pollutants, pesticides, herbicides, petrochemicals;
- Heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic);
- Chemical products (asbestos, benzene, vinyl chloride, defoliants <like Agent Orange,> coal tar derivatives, and nitrosamines);
- Chlorination of water (when water is combined with organic hydrocarbon residuals in polluted water);
- Radiation exposure (nuclear plants, chronic x-ray exposure);
- Electromagnetic fields (fluorescent lighting, high tension power lines);
- Sun exposure;
- Certain drugs;
- Purchase organic fruits and veggies whenever possible;
- Use filtering devices for your water;
- Reduce air pollution in your home with an air filter;
- Use organic personal cosmetics;
- Wash your hands carefully after using petrochemical solvents; keep all work areas well ventilated.
I know these lists seem long, but if you start practicing them, they’ll become second nature to you. Then, some time in your late nineties, when you’re finally considering giving up biking around your retirement village, you’ll think, “Wow, all these years, I managed to skip cancer.” Of course, then don’t get hit by a car.
David Edelberg, MD