Reading about cancer prevention is often inconsistent because the majority of recommendations are focused on cancer screening instead of real preventative measures. Cancer screening refers to the ongoing process of performing tests and physical examination routines according to your age and risk factors in order to rule out any disease, promote early detection of ailments, and provide an early treatment. It is an excellent way to reduce the severe consequences of cancer, but that is not what most of us understand about prevention. Everyone would rather take measures to stop the incidence of cancer instead of limiting ourselves to detecting this terrifying disease when it’s already threatening against our health.
But if you go online or listen to what people say, there are countless recommendations about what you should do and stop doing in order to avoid cancer. Since there are so many types of cancer according to the affected system, preventing cancer as a whole is a very broad topic, we should try to cover, taking into consideration your individual risk factors.
For instance, preventing stomach cancer wouldn’t be your priority if you’re a man over 65 who have never had stomach problems. Instead, it would be wiser to focus on preventing prostate cancer, unless you had a gastrointestinal infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, a microorganism that increases your chance to develop stomach cancer. Still, there are specific prevention strategies and recommendations that apply for all types of cancer alike, and in this article, we will cover some broad prevention strategies that really work against cancer in general, and then go through certain specific recommendations depending on the type and location of cancer.
• Controlling added sugars: Carbohydrates are important as an energy source, but added sugars in processed foods should be avoided as much as possible. They lead to overweight and obesity, and these states of high adiposity are associated with inflammatory mediators that may trigger carcinogenesis. Added sugar may also induce cancer by providing an overloaded source of energy that promotes accelerated cellular growth.
• Increasing your physical activity levels: By increasing physical activity, your insulin resistance is significantly reduced, and you’re likely to reduce your weight as well. Insulin resistance is linked to various types of solid cancers, but also leukemia, lymphoma, and many others, and exercise is an excellent way to keep these problems at bay.
• Sleep appropriately: Proper sleep is associated with a lower incidence of various types of cancer, including prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer. Another sleeping problem called obstructive sleep apnea is associated with pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, and melanoma. Thus, if you have sleeping problems, address them as soon as possible as a prevention strategy to live longer and healthier.
• Including more antioxidant foods in your diet: There are plenty of dietary recommendations to prevent cancer, and the majority of them includes fruits and vegetables with antioxidants and polyphenols, such as blueberry, strawberries, pomegranate, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, kale, plums, and spices such as cinnamon, clove, oregano, and thyme. In general, it would be enough to include at least 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits every day.
• Get your daily dose of omega 3 oils: Unhealthy fats in processed foods, the skin in poultry, and the fatty portion of beef increase inflammation and promote cancer growth. Conversely, there are excellent sources of fats, especially omega 3 fats. They are called essential fatty acids and have been found to be toxic for cancer cells, triggering cellular death (apoptosis), and sparing healthy cells in the process.
• Drinking green tea, red wine, or lemon juice every day: Besides antioxidant foods, there are plenty of antioxidant beverages you can try in order to prevent oxidative stress. The reason why they are so important is that they scavenge and neutralize free radicals, not allowing them to react with DNA and cellular structures. By doing this, antioxidants protect DNA from mutations that may result in cancer. Several studies have shown that three of the most widely available and potent beverages to prevent cancer are green tea, red wine, and lemon juice. They contain polyphenols and antitumor substances that inhibit cancer growth, and having them on a daily basis is not only a part of your preventative strategy but also a tasty and natural way to pass your meals.
• Avoid heavy drinking of alcoholic beverages: There are several links between heavy alcohol consumption and cancer. Studies show that alcoholism is strongly associated with cancers in the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. There’s also a link between alcohol consumption and cancer in the liver, stomach, colon, ovaries, and breast. Thus, if you’re trying to prevent cancer, quitting on alcohol is a great starting point towards a healthier lifestyle.
• Stop smoking: Tobacco is typically associated with lung cancer, and smoking is undoubtedly one of the most destructive habits for your respiratory and cardiovascular system. However, tobacco smoking does not only cause lung cancer. It is also associated with cancer in the oral cavity, the nasal cavity, the pancreas, liver, stomach, kidneys, cervical cancer, and many others. There are plenty of carcinogen substances in tobacco, and nicotine plays its part by making it addictive. If you’re a heavy tobacco user, stop smoking right away and look for alternative ways to replace this harmful habit along with the recommendations by your doctor.
• Drink coffee in moderation: If you look up the association of coffee and cancer you will get contradicting results. Coffee might be a good idea to prevent certain types of cancer and a bad idea in some other cases. 2 cups of coffee every day is associated to a lower risk of cancer in the oral cavity, the pharynx, as well as colon, liver, endometrial and prostate cancer. But if you have an underlying risk to suffer from lung cancer (such as a medical history of heavy smoking), coffee would increase your risk further. The best approach would be to drink in moderation and reduce coffee intake if you’re likely to suffer from lung cancer.
• Sweet potato for stomach and colon cancer: Sweet potato has an impressive content of vitamin A and polyphenols with antioxidant activity that may help to prevent cancer. However, the anticancer effects of sweet potato are apparently more evident in colon cancer, stomach cancer, and leukemia. Various studies featuring sweet potato polyphenols have found antiproliferative and antimetastatic effects in this particular tuber, so it is useful not only to prevent these types of cancer but as a part of the chemotherapy as well.
• Eat more fiber to reduce the incidence of colon cancer: For many years, it was widely known that people who eat more fiber in foods such as leafy vegetables, whole wheat, legumes, and apple had a lower incidence of colon cancer. Recent studies have shown that fiber is digested by our gut microbiota and the butyrate that results from this metabolic breakdown is a chemopreventive agent that works on the colonocytes and controls tumoral growth. Thus, eating more fiber in your diet will help you reduce the risk of colon cancer, one of the most difficult to detect among solid tumors.
• Increase your fluid intake to prevent bladder and colon cancer: Drinking more water is a healthy habit most of us should take seriously, especially if we have kidney problems. Drinking enough water throughout the day has been found to reduce various types of cancer, especially bladder and colon cancer. One way to know whether or not you’re drinking enough water is looking at the color of your own urine. Heavily stained urine that looks like apple juice means you’re not drinking enough water, and crystal-clear urine means you’re drinking way too much.
• Breastfeed your baby to prevent breast cancer: Breastfeeding does not only provide your baby with nutrients and additional immunity; it is also known to prevent breast cancer. According to a recent meta-analysis, breastfeeding confers a protective effect against certain types of cancer, and it is a good practice that should be maintained for at least 6 months and then combined with solid foods.
• Consume soy-based products to reduce prostate and breast cancer: Soy consumption has isoflavones and other nutrients that may aid in preventing certain types of hormone-mediated cancers, especially prostate cancer and breast cancer. Observational data shows that people who consume these products on a daily basis have a lower incidence of this type of cancer.
Even though the investigation to find the cure to cancer has been going on for years, there’s no ultimate cure or vaccine against cancer. However, preventing certain infections reduce the risk of developing cancer, which is particularly the case of hepatitis B and papillomavirus.
• Hepatitis B vaccine and liver cancer: Hepatitis B is a chronic viral disease that affects the liver and compromises the normal function of this organ. However, it remains asymptomatic for a long time and triggers severe inflammatory reactions that may end up in liver cancer. The vaccine against hepatitis B virus was the first anticancer vaccine and has reduced the risk of liver cancer in up to 60% in susceptible populations.
• Papillomavirus vaccine and cervical cancer: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has been traditionally linked to cervical cancer, and it is found in 90% of cervical cancers, 91% of anal cancers and 75% of vaginal cancers. However, it is also common in oropharyngeal, laryngeal, penile cancer, among others. This is because some HPV strains are more carcinogenic than others, and it is the reason why HPV vaccines are recommended, especially for women under reproductive age who currently engage in sexual intercourse, especially if they have more than one sexual partner.
Even though it is not possible to prevent all cases of cancer and guarantee a cancer-free organism, there is much we can do to avoid this fearful health problem. A careful prevention strategy, along with smart screening to detect cancer in an early phase, will reduce the chance of suffering from the life-threatening complications of cancer and maintaining our quality of life for longer. They are not difficult changes to make and they are not expensive either, so it is up to you to implement these simple lifestyle changes and increase your longevity.
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