How to Prevent Cancer & Improve Your Chances of Survival After Diagnosis

Today's public awareness campaigns work to teach Americans how to prevent cancer and also increase their chances of survival after a cancer diagnosis; however, it appears many are not listening to the message. In 2008, the American Cancer Society projected the diagnosis of approximately 1.44 million new cases of cancer, totaling between 3 to 4% of the U.S. population. A new case is diagnosed every twenty-three seconds. One in four Americans will develop cancer in his or her lifetime, and approximately one out of three will die.


The Big Picture for Cancer

The outlook for cancer is improving, with decreased incidence and better survival rates overall. Between 1994 and 2004, cancer mortality decreased by 18% in men and 10.5% in women. Despite this progress, however, cancer is still the second most common cause of death, second only to heart disease. And most individuals, through lifestyle choices, could prevent cancer and heart disease.

Cancers most common in men are lung, prostate and colorectal. Most common in women are lung cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. When looking at mortality alone, breast and lung cancer account for 26% of cancer deaths each. As treatment improves, the overall survival for all cancers is now 65% (even higher for breast and prostate cancer) and is now considered a chronic, rather than fatal, disease in most. By 2030, the number of survivors will total twenty million.

However, also by 2030, one out of two men and one out of three women will develop cancer. Fifty percent of survivors will have treatment-related side effects. Seventy percent will have treatment-related health deficits.

This improved outlook overall is partly due to better cancer therapy. But it is also due to healthier lifestyle choices. Better nutrition, more exercise, a decrease in smoking and alcohol moderation are all part of the picture. These healthy lifestyle choices contribute to the improved outlook—and are the strongest factors in the fight to prevent cancer.

On the other hand, unhealthy choices involving poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to the escalating cases of preventable disease.

Preventive Medicine: Increase Your Chances of Survival After Cancer

Over half the deaths from cancer could be prevented through screening tests, adopting healthier lifestyles and reducing the risk developing non-cancer disease conditions. For instance, heart disease, which could take thirty years to kill, can be prevented. Lifestyle changes can reverse existing damage and prevent damage from occurring in the first place. The same is true for other critical conditions such as diabetes, abdominal obesity, hypertension and stroke, all of which are related to unhealthy lifestyle habits and contribute to your risk of developing metabolic syndrome (MSx).

Seventy percent of cancer survivors will develop one of these other diseases and 33% of survivors will develop two or more of these other diseases. If you survive cancer, it is a shame to die of other preventable causes. Other common preventable life-shortening diseases include COPD and osteoporosis. Obesity also significantly increases cancer risk as well as the incidence of these other life-shortening diseases. Smoking will cause a billion deaths in this century worldwide from cancer and the other above listed diseases. Regular exercise is critical in improving survival from cancer and these other preventable conditions.

What You Can Do to Prevent Cancer

In addition to lifestyle modification, early cancer detection, cancer screening, early cancer treatment and excellent follow-up after initial treatment for cancer are all essential for staying healthy and cancer-free. The problem is that few survivors of cancer follow these recommendations.

Some of the key recommendations for survivors are dietary:

  • Eat five servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
  • Reduce your total calorie intake and lose belly fat.
  • Limit sugary and fizzy drinks.
  • Limit red meat.
  • Use unsaturated fats and avoid saturated fats.
  • Limit salt.
  • Limit preservatives.
  • Avoid toxins in food.
  • Eat whole grains.
  • Avoid fast foods, fried foods, sweets and simple sugars.

Other key recommendations include: frequent physical activity (thirty minutes, five times a week), stress reduction, stopping smoking and sleeping eight hours a day. Making these changes can reduce your risk of developing many cancers as well as improving the survival rate for existing cancers.

Source: Teeley, P. & Bashe, P. (2000). The Complete Cancer Survival Guide: Everything You Must Know and Where to Go for State-of-the-Art Treatment of the 25 Most Common Forms of Cancer. New York: Main Street Books.