Caring Currents

What If 120,000 People Didn't Have to Get Cancer? Prevention Strategies Guaranteed to Work

Last updated: Mar 04, 2009

Ocala Relay For Life 2008
Image by SteveBeger used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

Would you change your lifestyle if you could slash your risk of getting cancer by a third or even half? That's the challenge posed by a huge new report just released by The American Institute for Cancer Research that pulls together and analyzes the most comprehensive data on cancer prevention yet.

Okay, I admit it, you're not going to like some of this advice, and neither are your family members. I know I don't. Give up salami, one of my favorite lunch options? Yikes. And alcohol? As native Californians who grew up going wine tasting in the Napa Valley whenever possible, my siblings would be really sad if family dinners were no longer accompanied by a bottle of good zinfandel or pinot. And what's a burrito without a cold beer and lime to go with it?

But this evidence is so compelling that I think all of us in Cancer World are going to have to look twice at some of our lifestyle choices and may feel newly motivated to make changes, or nag at our loved ones to do so. Imagine, by following these guidelines, we could prevent:

  • More than 45% of colon cancer cases
    (Translation: 49,000 people would not get colon cancer)
  • 38% of breast cancer cases
    (Translation: 70,000 people would not get breast cancer)
  • One third of all the most common cancers

This report is a big deal because the experts who compiled it looked at every major study and based their recommendations on hard evidence of what really works to reduce cancer risk. "This is the practical application of five years of work sorting through what the science really says," said panel member Steve Zeisel, MD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

7 Ways to Slash Your Risk of Getting Cancer:

  1. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day. As well as helping prevent weight gain, research shows that activity itself helps prevent cancer by keeping hormone levels healthy, which is important because having high levels of some hormones can increase cancer risk.
  2. Lower your weight to the lower end of the body-mass index for your height. Even more important, banish belly fat, which acts like a "╦ťhormone pump' releasing estrogen into the bloodstream as well as raising levels of other hormones. This is strongly linked to colon cancer and probably to cancers of the pancreas and endometrium (lining of the uterus), as well as breast cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women.
  3. Avoid sugary drinks and high-calorie foods. Cutting out foods made from white flour and sugar, such as candy, pastries, and other baked goods that aren't whole grain, is one of the fastest ways to lose weight, and is also healthier for blood sugar balance.
  4. Eat more fruits and vegetables. This one's been pretty thoroughly covered in a previous post on anti-cancer foods.
  5. Eat less red meat and little or no processed meat. Experts say there's no longer any doubt that eating beef, pork, and other red meats raises the risk of colorectal cancer. Red meat contains heme iron and other substances that damage the colon lining, making way for tumor growth. Processed meat is even worse. When meat is preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives, cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) are formed that damage cells in the body, leading to cancer. While studies show we can eat up to 18 ounces a week of red meat without raising cancer risk, research shows that cancer risk starts to increase with any portion of processed meat.
  6. Limit alcohol to two drinks a day for men, 1 for women -- but none is best of all. Unfortunately for all those of us who like a drink now and then, there's convincing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and colon. This one got hit with a double-whammy of evidence this week; the National Cancer Institute also reported the results of a huge study detailing the risks of alcohol for women. Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, cancer blogger for the American Cancer Society, spelled it out in black and white: "there is no level of alcohol consumption that could be called safe." Scientists are still researching how alcohol causes cancer. One theory is that alcohol can directly damage DNA, increasing our risk of cancer. Research shows that alcohol is particularly harmful when combined with smoking.
  7. Limit salt intake. Salt and salt-preserved foods are linked to stomach and other digestive cancers; limit salt to 2400 milligrams to be safe.

One last thing; this report did not even address smoking, because experts consider that such a no-brainer at this point. Smokers increase their chances of getting almost all kinds of cancer every time they light up. So the only recommendation is, don't.