Cancer prevention should be priority one in the war against cancer followed by early detection. This is where the bulk of cancer funding should go but, unfortunately, just the opposite is the rule. Most cancer funding is going to treatments and drug development.
Prevention means that we don't get cancer; there is nothing to detect. However, cancer screening is smart, necessary and should be part of everyone's health program and the earlier, the better; more on screening to follow.
It has been estimated that 80% of cancers are self-inflicted and if that is the case, then 80% of cancers should be completely avoidable. Let's see how smart lifestyle choices can give your body a fighting chance against this dreaded disease.
From the American Cancer Society (ACS), we learn that the use of tobacco products accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths. With the legalization of marijuana in several states, that figure is bound to go up.
Lungs were made to function on the oxygen in good, clean air; not smoke from any source. Put toxic fumes in those delicate alveoli of the lungs for long enough and cancer follows.
The ACS describes cigarette smoke is a complex mixture of chemicals produced by the burning of tobacco and its additives.
The smoke contains tar, which is made up of more than 4,000 chemicals, including over 60 known to cause cancer. Some of these substances cause heart and lung diseases, and all of them can be deadly.
Most people are surprised at some of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke. The more dangerous include:
Cigarette smoke also contains the poison gases nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. The active ingredient that produces the effect people are looking for is nicotine, an addictive drug.
Cigarettes and other tobacco products cause cancer, pure and simple and these cancers are all self inflicted.
<p>Still feel like "lighting up"?
From "Preventative Medicine", we read that evidence suggests a connection between heavy alcohol consumption and increased risk for cancer, with an estimated 2 to 4 percent of all cancer cases thought to be caused either directly or indirectly by alcohol.
And from the American Cancer Society, a strong association exists between alcohol use and cancers of the esophagus, pharynx, and mouth; with highly likely links between alcohol and liver, breast, and colorectal cancers.
Alcohol caused cancers are associated with abuse of alcohol, not the casual one or two drink a day user. Nevertheless, that 2% to 4% is another class of avoidable, self-inflicted cancers.
It would follow that given the evidence of smoking and alcohol on the incidence of cancer, not smoking and moderate to little alcohol consumption would be a smart choice in everyone's cancer prevention arsenal.
In 2002, about 41,000 new cases of cancer in the United States were estimated to be due to obesity which, according to the National Cancer Institute, represents 3.2% of all new cancer cases.
A recent report estimated that, in the United States, 14 percent of deaths from cancer in men and 20 percent of deaths in women were due to overweight and obesity.
In 2001, experts concluded that cancers of the colon, breast (postmenopausal), endometrium (the lining of the uterus), kidney, and esophagus are associated with obesity. Some studies have also reported links between obesity and cancers of the gallbladder, ovaries, and pancreas.
Here are another 3.2 percent of self-inflicted cancers that could be avoided by keeping ones weight within the guidelines for height and weight in the BMI chart. It seems that cancer prevention has many faces.
As an introduction to nutrition and cancer prevention, take a look at the short YouTube video below from Howcast.com. It presents a excellent, very concise 12-step overview of the best foods to eat for cancer prevention and explains why these particular foods are "anti-cancer".
There are two areas of the video that deserve comment however. First is that it starts off saying "you don't need supplements to fight cancer"; actually you do, they are essential. That is not to say that dietary supplements prevent cancer but that they supply the missing nutrients in our modern food supply so that the body can do what the Creator designed it to do...take care of itself.
The assumption in the video is that we can still find these foods grown organically, without the use of pesticides, herbicides, genetically engineered seeds, chemical fertilizers or contaminated manure from large corporate animal factories and grown on soil that has not been depleted of trace elements. In reality, the nutritional content of food in the U.S. is severely compromised and much of it is contaminated with toxins.
The second is the advice to "eat fish a few times a week". Unfortunately, all fish is now so contaminated with heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals that we are more likely to get cancer from eating the fish.
This is an area where, instead of eating more fish, it is better to supplement with a high grade, molecular distilled omega-3 fish oil or Krill oil; both readily available from any health food store, supermarket or drugstore.
In addition, they contain numerous type of cancer fighting carotenoids.
Now that you have seen the video, a good question to ask is...
What is missing from the video is any mention of red meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Dr. Michael Greger M.D. is currently the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International.
His credentials in nutrition science and disease prevention are extensive, being a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and Tufts University School of Medicine. He has been a vegan since 1990.
Dr. Greger, in two of his daily blogs, has written on how a low methionine diet can help starve cancer cells and how the ratio of animal-to-plant protein can reverse the progression of prostate cancer. The implication of the latter item is that the higher the veggie intake and the lower the animal protein, the better the body is equipped to fight off cancer.
Methionine is an essential amino acid highly prevalent in chicken and fish with red meat, eggs and dairy having a significant methionine content. It is also available from plant sources but in much lower quantities. Low methionine content foods include fruits, nuts, grains, beans and broccoli and other vegetables.
The problem is that animal sourced methionine can actually give tumors the ability to grow.
The take-away message is that if one can’t be a vegan, at least work at consuming a higher percentage of plant based foods than animal based foods; the lower the animal protein, the better.Another important resource that amplifies the 12-steps in the video is a website created by a cancer survivor, Peggy Roberts.
For additional dietary and lifestyle information, such as the acidity or alkalinity of the body which is not covered here, visit Peggy's guide.
OK, moving on to other thoughts on nutrition and cancer....
Starting with Carbohydrates, AKA Sugars
There are numerous articles stating that cancer thrives on sugar. So how can sugar play a role in helping our body fight off mutated cells? It depends on the sugar...not all sugars are the same.
Glycoproteins are manufactured in the inner workings of the cell and then delivered to the cell surfaces where they not only activate the macrophages, but also induces these cells to secrete substances which stimulate other cells of the immune system.
For example, macrophages will secrete interferons which will
activate natural killer cells, another white blood cell involved in elimination of cancer cells. Recognition of the importance of sugars (carbohydrates) in the regulation of the immune system and cancer prevention has been reported by others.
Get familiar with the work being conducted by the Endowment for Medical Research, specifically regarding the sugar Trehalose. Click the link below.
Fast forward to August 2006 and the National Institute of General Medical Science's (NIGMS) publication "The Chemistry of Health". On page 26 under the heading "Sweet Therapy" is an account of the research done onone specific bio-active sugar by Dr. Hudson Freeze, a biochemist at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, California.
He found that an absence of this sugar gives rise to a collection of diseases known as Congenital Disorders of Glycosylation and supplementing the diets of such people returned them to normal function. So here is another example where the replacement of a missing nutrient allowed the body to restore itself to a state of homeostasis, a big word that just means balance.
In the intervening years, thousands of research papers have been published on the science of sugars (glycobiology) and the health benefits they provide, especially in cancer prevention and treatments.
Also from the same NIGMS publication, we read about Chemist Laura Kiessling of the University of Wisconsin. She is researching sugars to down regulate inflammation and prevent cancer cells from sticking together.
Others are using sugars to block the signaling processes inside the cancer cell, and altering the surface of a cancer cell with sugar structures to make it more attractive to cancer killing cells in the immune system.
The latter research flows from Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi at the University of California, Berkeley. She says, "Sugars just may turn out to be the magic bullet against many forms of cancer". Let's hope so, at least a lot of drug companies are hoping so by throwing a lot of money at this area of research.
Photo: Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi of the Bertozzi Research Group at UC Berkeley and Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Her lab focuses on profiling changes in cell surface glycosylation associated with cancer, inflammation and bacterial infection, and exploiting this information for development of diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. We can interpret that as meaning new drugs based on sugar science.
In addition, her group develops nanoscience-based technologies for probing cell function and for medical diagnostics. Dr. Bertozzi is emerging as one of the giants in the field of applied glycobiology.
From the foregoing, one could draw the conclusion that bio-active sugars should be a routine part of everyone's diet; not because they cure or prevent disease but because they are a part of the immune system that the body needs to do its job.
Cancer prevention has many facets and this seems to be an ideal place to introduce Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, M.D. PhD and his book, Anti-Cancer, A New Way of Life. He covers all the facets.
The introduction is the seven minute U-Tube video below featuring Dr. Servan-Schreiber speaking about his personal experience with brain cancer and how all of us can both prevent and treat existing cancers through nutrition and by adopting an anti-cancer lifestyle.
His book is a must read and can be purchased from Amazon by clicking the link below.
By now most people are aware of antioxidants role in cancer prevention and that they work to protect the body from free radical damage.
Free radicals are atoms that have lost an outer shell electron thus giving them the ability to react with or damage molecules that they come in contact with.
Unless our body gets rid of the charged free radicals or neutralizes them, we face the risk of having the DNA in affected cells damaged, leading to uncontrolled replication and the beginning of cancer tumors.
Numerous clinical trials have been conducted or are underway testing whether or not antioxidants are effective in cancer prevention or retardation. The results have been conflicting, raising more questions than they answered.
One problem is that the tests used beta-carotene, vitamins A and E as well as selected minerals in the form of supplements. This approach was taken in order to tightly control the supplement dosages.
In the real world, it is always better to get vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (lycopene, beta-carotene, etc.) from real whole foods. Many tests have confirmed that when a micro-nutrient is separated from its whole food complex, it tends not to work.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, preferably organic, definitely un-processed and eaten raw when possible, are the best sources of the micro-nutrients and fiber our body needs to give us full protection from free radicals.
The major micro-nutrient antioxidants are Vitamins A, C and E, Selenium, Zinc, Lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein. In general, one's "smart-choice" diet should consist of fresh fruits and vegetables (heavy on the tomatoes), whole grains, nuts (especially almonds and walnuts), fish (keeping in mind the heavy metal issue), poultry and meats (especially liver) but only if the chickens and cattle are pastured and not from factory farms.
The fresh fruits and vegetables should include the dark green leafy vegetables; the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and the like; and colorful produce including berries (especially blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries), apples, mangos, oranges, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and similar.
One problem discussed in the nutrition section of this site is that most commercially farmed fruit and vegetables are deficient in many essential nutrients and supplementation is mandatory. The caveat is that the choice of supplements should be from natural plant sources, not artificially made in a laboratory.
Once again, it must be stressed that while nutrients play a role in cancer prevention it cannot be claimed that they cured or even prevented the disease. All the credit goes to the power of the body to heal itself if it gets all the right nutrients.
There is mounting evidence that Vitamin D3 affords some degree of cancer prevention and helps patients undergoing cancer treatments fare better.
A study conducted at the University of Toronto with 512 newly diagnosed breast cancer patients showed that only 23% of the women had adequate vitamin D3 levels. The rest were either deficient (38%) or insufficient (39%). The study tracked the progress of these patients for 12 years.
The findings were that those with the lowest levels of vitamin D3 had double the risk of their disease progressing and a 73% greater risk of death.
It seems that all such studies involving any type of natural substance or micro-nutrient usually caveat their conclusions by saying "more studies need to be done". This one is no exception.
Vitamin D3 is somewhat of a rare vitamin and supplementation is mandatory to maintain sufficient levels. In natural food, it comes from fatty fish, cod liver oil, egg yolks and some fortified foods such as milk, cereals and orange juice.
The expert opinions on how much vitamin D3 is needed are all over the map. Dr. Pamela Goodwin, MD, who led the study cited above, recommends 200 IU for women up to age 50, 400 IU for ages 51-70 and 600 IU for women 71 and older. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends 1000 units a day in the winter. Excessive level of vitamin D3 can have some harmful results so care should be taken.
Cancers arising from poor choices in nutrition fall into that self-inflicted 80% mentioned above. We can choose burgers, fries, deep fried chicken and other fast food junk or the fresh produce covered above. Either way, we will live or die from the consequences.
Even when we do all the right things, eat right, exercise, manage stress, don't smoke and get good sleep; life is imperfect and "stuff" happens.
For example, the images below show a polyp discovered during a routine colonoscopy and complete removal of the polyp. If this polyp had not been found and removed it likely would have developed into full blown colon cancer. This is just one example of how cancer prevention in the form of a screening test possibly saved a life.
It just makes good sense to get screened for certain cancers at periodic intervals as part of a cancer prevention program. After all, it's good feedback to let us know how well our personal prevention program is working.
Also, as we saw in the prior page on cancer stages, the earlier a cancer is detected, the easier and cheaper the cure and the longer the survival rate.
Recommended screening tests according to the American Cancer Society for men and women are itemized below.
For men and women, screening for colon and rectal cancer are desirable and should include one of several tests to detect cancer and polyps such as a flexible sigmoidoscope every five years; a colonoscopy every ten years; a double contract barium enema every five years or a CT colonoscopy every five years. A fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test each year are good tests for colon cancer.
Women should have annual cervical screenings after age 21 or within three years of having intercourse. Such screenings would be the regular Pap test each year or the newer liquid-based Pap test every two years. After menopause, women should also be alert for signs of uterine cancer.
Men should have prostate exams every year after the age of fifty and such screening should include both a digital exam and a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test.
The National Cancer Institute has an excellent website on screening and testing for specific cancers with links to volumes of additional information and details on each screening technology.
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