How to prevent cancer when just about everything seems to cause it
Most of us have known someone who has passed away from cancer. Some of us may have even suffered through the disease and beaten it. Or perhaps you’re someone dealing with it right now.
Whatever your understanding of this complex attack on the body, we can all agree: cancer sucks. And with a person’s risk of dying from cancer before their 85th birthday estimated to be 1 in 5 in 2018, you’d be hard-pressed not to find anyone who doesn’t worry about it at times.
Cancer can take a devastating toll on sufferers and their families, emotionally, physically and financially. Worst of all, it costs lives.
But here’s the good news: 1 in 3 cases of cancer can be prevented. It was found that a large percentage of deaths from cancer in 2010 were caused largely by lifestyle-related reasons.
Check it out.
Looking at this, it’s easy to identify ways we can take action to prevent cancer and reduce our risk of being affected.
But let’s look at each cause in more detail and talk about the specific lifestyle modifications that can be made to assist in cancer prevention.
That way, you’ll have peace of mind you’re doing all you can to steer clear of the deadly disease.
How to Prevent Cancer
1. Tobacco Smoking
The biggest preventable cause of cancer deaths in Australia is tobacco smoke. In 2013, cigarettes caused 23% of all cancer deaths. That’s nearly a quarter! But with almost 3 million Australians reported to be still smoking in 2018, it’s clear that many are not ready to give up the habit.
What to do:
If you’re a smoker, don’t give yourself a rough time. Guilt won’t help anyone. Quitting isn’t easy and it’s harder yet if you’ve been puffing away all your life. But it can be done, and more importantly, it’s worth it.
Many doctors agree that quitting smoking is the most effective thing you can do for cancer prevention. Contact a quit line today and get the help you need—see bottom of this page for relevant contact numbers.
Non-smokers, the risk still exists of inhaling these toxic fumes. Avoid passive smoke at all costs, and try to discourage your mates and colleagues from smoking around you. You might ruffle a few feathers, but your health is worth the risk.
2. UV Radiation
“Slip, Slop, Slap.” We’ve all known it since we were little nippers. But do you know the new “Seek” and “Slide” additions? Seeking shade and sliding on a pair sunnies can be just as important as wearing sunscreen and a hat.
Aussies love a hot day—it’s part of our culture and summer defines us as a nation. But in our enthusiasm to get those rays, we get lax with our sun smarts.
This could eventually come at a cost. Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, and most cases are due to the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight exposure.
What to do:
You don’t need to be a vampire. A bit of sun is good for you, mentally and physically. But know and manage the risks. Wear sunscreen no matter the weather (UV can still be high on dull, overcast days). Invest in a good hat and shades. And don’t bake out in the sun like a lizard—it’s no longer the fashion, anyway. Fake tan is your friend!
Skin cancer is extremely common. Approximately two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70, so don’t think it won’t happen to you. Protect yourself appropriately. It’s one of the easiest ways to prevent cancer.
It’s amazing how much diet impacts human health. From mental health to body composition, a healthy and balanced diet can have a positive effect in a myriad of ways—cancer aside.
But what many people don’t know is that eating healthy foods is one of the easiest ways of cancer prevention. On the flip side, avoiding certain foods can also help you dodge the disease.
What to do:
The Cancer Council recommends plenty of vegetables and fruit. Consumption of these rainbow-coloured goodies is likely to reduce the risk of mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach and bowel cancer. Foods with dietary fibre and wholegrain cereals can also help prevent cancer in the digestive system.
Foods to avoid include highly processed meats (like frankfurt sausages) and items high in salt. Excess salt consumption has been linked to stomach cancer. Red meat is also given the no-no in popular media, though The Cancer Council has said that 3-4 serves a week is acceptable.
Overall, a diet high in fresh wholefoods is the best diet to prevent cancer. Shop around the outer aisles in your supermarket to stock up on real fruits, veg and unprocessed quality meats and small goods.
4. Obesity and physical inactivity
Nearly 4000 cases of cancer every year are linked to obesity or being overweight. Why is this the case? Well, it’s a simple case of one problem causing another. Excess body weight increases insulin resistance. This leads to the pancreas producing more insulin, which can promote the growth of cancer cells.
A range of different reasons can cause high body weight, but often the culprit is simply a poor diet. An occasional treat is unlikely to cause harm. But the problem is that for so many Australian families, these poor food choices are becoming everyday occurrences.
Some of our favourite foods are disastrous for our health if consumed in excess—like soft drinks, white processed breads and sweets, baked goods and salty snacks. They’re high in calories and low in nutritional value. This causes the body to store more fat and become overweight as a result. Not getting enough exercise will only worsen the situation.
It’s also been found that physical inactivity can cause cancer even if a person is not overweight. Colon and breast cancers are often linked to low activity levels.
What to do:
Find out if you’re overweight or at risk, and take steps to remedy the situation. Look at your lifestyle and figure out where you can make changes. Preventing weight gain is an easier task than trying to lose it, so if you’re not in the danger zone, ensure that it stays that way.
Getting healthy and cleaning up your diet can be fun! But more importantly, it’s likely to improve your life in so many different ways. Don’t forget to prioritise your cardiovascular health and fitness as well as your diet. Time to renew the gym membership, maybe?
5. Alcohol consumption
The more alcohol you drink, the higher your chances of developing a range of nasty cancers—from kidney and liver to mouth and throat.
But alcohol is a strong part of our culture. From celebratory events like weddings and parties to iced longnecks on the beach with mates, there seems to be temptation everywhere we turn. And for many people, the effects of alcohol are initially pleasant—a slight buzz, a feeling of ease and even greater sociability. But it can all go south if we overdo it. And many of us often do.
What to do:
Avoid or limit your alcohol intake. Current Australian guidelines recommend that those who drink alcohol stick to a set number of one standard drink a day for women, and two standard drinks a day for men.
But if you can live without it, it could be the best thing you ever do for your health. Try a monthly challenge like ‘Dry July’ to see how you feel without regular alcohol consumption. Many people report feeling more energised, more focused and even end up losing a few pounds.
If you’re worried you might have a problem with alcohol consumption, reach out. You’re not alone, and there are resources and people who can help you—see our list of contact numbers at the bottom of this article.
Extra steps you can take
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s okay. Part of cancer prevention is assessing your risk. Perhaps one day there’ll be a cure for cancer, but until then it’s worth doing all you can and knowing the risks.
Life’s too short to be so worried about getting cancer to the point of becoming miserable. Many who suffer it recover and survive. And sometimes cancer can come as a strange and sudden surprise to those who thought they were doing everything right. Life throws curveballs—that’s just how it is.
By following the right steps, you can significantly lower your risk of preventable cancer. So stress less. Enjoy life. Treat your body and mind right. Together as a nation, we can fight this disease.
This article is opinion only and should not be taken as medical or financial advice. Check with a financial professional before making any decisions.