Cancer develops when normal cells turn into cancer cells and grow out of control. This usually happens because of changes in a cell’s genetic material (DNA), especially mutations involving genes that play a role in cell multiplication and repair. Genetic mutations can have a variety of causes, including radiation, chemical exposure and random changes that accumulate with age.
There are about 12.7 million cancer cases globally every year, and this number is expected to increase to 26 million by 2030.
February 4th marked World Cancer Day, and February is National Cancer Prevention Month. February 15th is also International Childhood Cancer Day.
Some cancer risk factors cannot be controlled, such as age, sex, race or ethnicity, family history and inherited genetic characteristics. However, only about 5 to 10 % of cancers are caused by inherited genetic mutations, with the rest attributable to spontaneous changes that happen during a person’s lifetime.
Other risk factors are related to environmental exposures like smoking and alcohol, which may be simple to change—but not always easy!
Risk factors may also be related to lifestyle, especially diet and exercise. Some factors, like body weight, are influenced by genetics, environment and behaviour.
Certain cancers seem to be linked to social and economic status, which can affect things like the type of work a person does, stress levels and access to health care.
Regular cancer screening is an important way to prevent cancer. Some cancers are preceded by pre-cancerous abnormalities, such as cervical dysplasia or polyps in the colon. Treating these promptly can prevent them from progressing to cancer. Other cancers can be detected at an early stage, when they are easier to treat.
Experts recommend routine screening for breast cancer, cervical cancer and colon cancer, as well as regular visual exams for skin cancer; opinions are mixed about prostate cancer screening. Lung cancer and liver cancer screening are recommended only for people at high risk.
Quick Prevention Tips
- Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
- Aim to build more activity, like brisk walking, into your daily routine
- Avoid sugary drinks, and limit consumption of energy dense foods (i.e., those with a high ratio of calories to volume)
- Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes
- Limit red meat consumption (e.g., beef, pork, and lamb) and avoid processed meats
- Limit alcoholic drinks (if consumed at all) to 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women
- Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium)
- Do not use dietary supplements to protect against cancer (i.e., these should not be a substitute for a healthy diet that includes nutrient-rich whole foods)
- It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months before introducing other liquids and foods (The WCRF/AICR report notes research suggesting a breast cancer protective effect for mothers and reduced likelihood of childhood overweight/obesity)
- After treatment, cancer survivors should follow recommendations for cancer prevention (i.e., recommendations for diet/nutrition, physical activity, and healthy weight maintenance, from an appropriately trained professional)
We will be sharing various facts about cancer and how to prevent it throughout the month of February, so come back often…