Beat the Odds Against Cancer

Even since the great war against cancer began in the 70’s, there’s one good thing that we have found out: most cancers are preventable. We’ve note helpless victims of a capricious fate that strikes us down at whim. We can fight back – starting right now!

Most of the cancers doctors see could have been prevented. That’s the message that mainline cancer organizations like the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute are increasingly ending out: Prevention is the cure for most cancers. If we eat wisely, don’t smoke, cut down our exposure to hazardous chemicals, and change our lifestyle, we can almost eliminate cancer.

Cancer can only occur if our immune system fails to hold cancerous cell at bay. If it is strong enough – if we do our best to boost it and to avoid abusing it – we can gain a winning edge over cancer.

Here are specific steps in that direction:

1. Eat to Beat Cancer

Eat to avoid Cancer? That may sound simplistic, but the scientific evidence seems to strongly indicate that your choice of diet may help you reduce your cancer risk. Below, a rundown on the anti cancer power of certain foods:

Fiber: Fiber may protect against cancer of the bowel and the rectum. This is not a new theory; and there is plenty of evidence that colon cancer is less common in populations that eat a diet high in fiber. There are two kinds of fiber. Insoluble fiber (that kind found in whole grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables), it is said, probably reduces the time that potential carcinogens (cancer causing agents) are in contact with the bowel by helping to move the intestine’s contents more quickly through the bowel.

Soluble fiber (found in oats, barely, in fruits like apples, and in gelatin) is thought to “bind with” carcinogens, and thus render them inoperable.

Beta Carotene: When you were young, you might often have been told to eat up your carrots because it was good for your eyes; you were probably never told that it might also reduce your risks of cancer. Now, the evidence is piling on that the beta carotene in carrots (and in certain other plant sources) offers protection against specific types of cancers – especially those involving the linings of the lungs, throat, stomach, colon and cervix.

Nutritionists refer to beta carotene as the “precursor” of Vitamin A, meaning that it converts into this vitamin in the body. Apart from carrots, it’s also found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and coriander and in fruits like mangoes and papayas. While a cause and effect relationship is yet to be established, the findings is yet to be established, the findings in study after study are highly suggestive: in subjects with a high cancer risk, beta carotene supplements were found to lower the incidence of pre-cancerous lesions, and even to reverse them.

Also, according to the latest research, there is no evidence of any toxic effects resulting from an excess of beta carotene, either in the diet or from supplements (although Vitamin A, in excessive amounts, is toxic). Food scientists say that we should get at least 1.5mg of beta carotene a day 9that’s about half a cup of fresh, chopped spinach, for example). Cooking means a 50 percent loss of the nutrient; however, absorption is higher from a cooked source, so the effects may balance out.

Vitamin B

In some persons, a deficiency of Vitamin B can also cause tissue changes in areas like the mouth and a lip, leading to ulcers which may ultimately becomes cancerous. Don’t neglect an ulcer in the mouth. Your doctor can prescribe a vitamin supplement.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has been shown to prevent the nitrates (used as food preservatives) from converting into dangerous nitrosamines (implicated in stomach cancer).

Preliminary studies have also shown that Vitamin C may combat genetically induced colon polyps. (People with such polyps are at greater risk for developing colon cancer).

Rich sources of Vitamin C are guavas, berries like Amla (Indian goose berry), strawberry and tomato and citrus fruits like oranges, sweet limes and lemons.

Vitamin E

This nutrient, apparently gaining in recognition with every passing year, has been shown in population studies to be linked with a reduced overall risk of cancer – particularly lung cancer and breast cancer. In animal studies too, it lowered the risks of breast cancer. Scientists believe it works as an anti oxidant, battling the free radical that wreaks damage on the immune system. It may also be a “helper nutrient,” say some researchers, working with Vitamin C, for example, to protect against colon cancer.

Natural sources of Vitamin E are sunflower seeds or oil; sesame seeds or oil; almonds or almond oil, and corn oil.

2. Dietary Don’ts

But, apart from dietary do’s, there are some dietary don’ts:

Keep down the fats: studies suggest that high fat diets are linked with certain forms of cancers, especially cancer of the breast and colon. In fact, a comprehensive study of the relation between cancer and diet by the National Academy of Sciences says that, of all the dietary components the academy studied, “the evidence is most suggestive for a casual relationship between fat intake and cancer.”

Cut down on processed foods: Refined foods tend to contain preservatives and additives (including artificial colors and flavors), many of which are carcinogenic. Saccharin, for instance, is associated with cancer of the bladder.

Processed foods are also low in fiber, making them a risk factor for cancer of the large bowel.

Limit intake of smoke/salt cured foods: Ham, Fish and some varieties of sausage smoked by traditional method absorb cancer causing tars similar to those contained in tobacco smoke. Also a certain amount of evidence links salt cured or pickled foods to increased risk of cancers of the stomach and esophagus.

3. Keep down your weight

Although dietary fat is the major culprit that causes overweight, too many calories from any food source (whether fats or carbohydrates or protein) converts into too much body fat, leading to overweight. And obesity is associated with breast cancer and cancers of the reproductive tract. The more overweight you are; the greater your risk.

The bottom line, where dietary guidelines to cancer are concerned, is that you should eat a variety of foods in moderation, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains; watch your weight; and decrease your fat intake. Preferably, avoid supplements as a convenient option: natural foods, with their complement of vitamins and minerals, are incomparably better.

4. Quit smoking/chewing tobacco/inhaling cigarette smoke

Tobacco intake, whether through cigarette smoking or chewing, has been shown to have a definite link with several cancers, including those of the lung, mouth, throat and pancreas. Contrary to popular presumption, beedi smoking is twice as dangerous as cigarette smoking, warns the Indian Cancer society. The habit of putting the lighted end of the cigarette in the mouth leads to oral cancer. So does chewing betel leaves.

Side stream or passive smoke has been shown to increase the lung cancer risk in non smoking persons married to smokers. So, discourage smoking at home. Until family members quit, be sure the house is well ventilated. At your workplace, get together with colleagues to request that management consider setting aside designated smoking and non-smoking areas.

5. Keep a check on pollution

While cigarette smoke is responsible for 9 out of 10 cases of lung cancer, pollution is another risk factor. The pollution cancer link is still not well understood, although scientists today know beyond doubt, that polluted air contains carcinogens. Among them: ozone, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. In one study, when investigators exposed human breast cells to benzo (a) pyrene (one of the most common automobile pollutants), they found that it resulted in the formation of “free radicals” – charged molecule fragments that can seriously injure cell walls and DNA. Other common pollutants are known to create “free radicals”. If you are living in a polluted city, it’s not at all easy beating the risks, except by avoiding exposure to pollutants when possible and getting away to the great open space on weekends and vacations.

However, on known protection against air pollution is to avoid breathing it while exercising rigorously, So, don’t jog in areas of heavy traffic or at times of the day when urban among is at its densest. (These times vary with the seasons and from city to city.

6. Avoid Unnecessary X-rays:

Indiscriminate and excessive exposure to radiation is known to cause certain cancers including leukemia (cancer of the blood). But x-rays are not the only source of such radiations. Thos working in nuclear plants are known to be at risk (Hundreds of survivors of Hiroshima, as well as the Chernobyl disaster is more recent times, later developed cancer in children, mainly leukemia, and in adults, cancer of the throat/thyroid/lungs). Other source of radiation are television, video display terminals, plutonium powered pacemakers, tinted glass in eye glasses, porcelain denture, even bricks and masonry. You can’t do much about most radiations – but you can, and must, limit what you get from medical x-ray and consumer products.

7. Treat “Pre-Cancerous Lesions”

A pre-cancerous lesion is any abnormal condition that, if allowed to continue, will develop into cancer with time, They include white spots on the mucous membranes of the mouth; sores caused by jagged and ill fitting dentures; bullish black moles that develop sigh of irritation; itchy scaly patches of dry skin, especially on the face; untreated birth injuries to the womb. Any of these conditions should be shown to a physicians promptly treated.

Avoid prolonged irritation of any part of the body: including over exposure to the sun/wind.