How to prevent cancer? – Eminent cancer expert on how to avoid cancer
“It’s not simply being afraid of cancer actually developing – but doing things to prevent it and to detect it early, so that it’s curable!” High-yield actions to avoid cancer:
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– Many cancers are preventable or could be identified by screening. Cancer research often focuses on heroic efforts of treating tumors at the late clinical stages, and there is certainly a lot of money in that. But at the same time cancer is often described as “disease of civilization” – because environmental pollution, the Western diet, the sedentary lifestyles – are probably responsible for a significant number of cancer cases, if not the majority of cancer diagnoses – Yes, absolutely, right! What can a person do today to prevent cancer to the maximum extent possible? What can be done to diagnose cancer early? Right! I think you’re very right that lifestyle is a very important factor in causing cancer. So, for example, smoking is responsible for a large group of cancers – it’s not the majority, but it’s a significant number of cancers, so lung cancers and bladder cancer, esophageal cancer, tumors of the head and neck – many of those are caused by smoking. So that is one major way in which people can prevent cancer themselves. The other thing is diet. Obesity is associated with a number of different cancers – it increases the risk of breast cancer, it increases the risk of certain cancers of the gastrointestinal system. So that is also a very important consideration – moderate intake of calories, lower content of red meats and fat, and attention to the way food is prepared – so not barbecuing, or using high temperature cooking that creates chemicals that cause cancer. So those are all very important things. The other thing is many of the cancers that we deal with are caused by viruses. For example, the most common cancer in the developing world for women is cervical cancer, which is caused by the papilloma virus [HPV]. So actually attention to papilloma virus vaccination and prevention methods for a papilloma [HPV] infection are very important. So there are a variety of things. I think you’re right in the sense that the majority of cancers are probably if not preventable, then we can at least reduce their incidence by attention to these issues of lifestyle. The one other thing that you alluded to in lifestyle is the sedentary lifestyle – watching TV, sitting on a couch. It is clear now that exercise and fitness are important. They don’t prevent cancer totally – but they certainly are important. There is a book by Vilhjalmur Stefansson “Cancer: the disease of civilization” that he wrote in the mid-60s, and it’s amazing how despite all the knowledge – that knowledge does not necessarily translate into action. Doing is much harder than understanding – It sure is! It is, and so that’s very important obstacle to cancer prevention. One of the other things that you mentioned, though, is very important – and that is screening. We know that that screening detects cancers earlier – and it can actually detect lesions, changes before they become cancer. For example, polyps in the colon – so that is just the standard things, such as regular physical examination and then mammography, colonoscopy – to prevent, to detect early colon lesions and to remove them before they become dangerous. And now even chest CT scans. They’re sort of the low-dose radiation scans that are used to detect lung cancers in smokers. So people that have a strong smoking history should get these kinds of of examinations. And then, of course, cervical cancer is another lesion, which, if it’s detected early, can be cured. It’s very important – colorectal cancer – with 1,5 million cases per year around the world, and it’s essentially a preventable cancer by just doing a colonoscopy, or virtual colonoscopy, once every 10 years. – You’re right, and so if we did this religiously, in other words, if we educated the patients and the general population that these things have to be a part of their thinking about cancer, and it’s not simply being afraid of cancer actually developing – but doing things to prevent it and to detect it early, so that it’s curable – Yeah, absolutely!