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February marks National Cancer Prevention Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle and early detection strategies to reduce the risk of cancer. “[An estimated] nearly 2 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer (other than non-melanoma skin cancer) during 2023, and…more than 600,000 died from their disease,” warns the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). As we unite in the fight against this formidable adversary, we want to focus on the significance of prevention and the proactive steps each of us can take to safeguard our well-being.

“Research shows that more than 40 percent of these cases and nearly half of the deaths can be attributed to preventable causes,” reports the AACR.

Understanding the Impact of Cancer

Cancer remains a pervasive global health challenge, affecting millions of lives every year. And that number is only expected to rise dramatically.

“Global cancer cases are expected to rise around 77 per cent by the middle of the century,” UN health authorities warned in early 2024, highlighting the growing risks of the disease. And Americans are expected to take the brunt of it.

“Richer countries are expected to have the greatest absolute increase in cancer, with an additional 4.8 million new cases predicted in 2050,” the agency noted. The UN went on to highlight the most common forms of cancer right now:

  • Lung cancer
  • Female breast cancer
  • Colorectal, prostate and stomach cancer
  • Cervical cancer

National Cancer Prevention Month serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of education, early detection, and lifestyle choices in reducing the burden of this disease.

The Power of Cancer Prevention

Prevention is a powerful tool in the battle against cancer. While it’s not possible to guarantee the prevention of cancer, researchers agree that there are several lifestyle choices and practices that can significantly reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer.

“The reality of cancer lies somewhere between the public health ideal of perfect prevention and the depressing stochastics of bad luck,” explains Harvard Public Health. “Current research suggests that at least half of cancer cases—estimates range from 30 percent to upward of 70 percent—could be prevented by applying what we already know. The other half of cancer cases—including the elusive and often deadly types often caught too late to make a difference, such as ovarian, pancreatic, and brain tumors—could be detected and potentially even prevented far earlier if basic science and promising diagnostic technologies received the sustained government support they need.”

By making informed choices and embracing a health-conscious lifestyle, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing various types of cancer. Simple yet impactful changes, such as maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco products, and limiting alcohol consumption, can contribute to a healthier, cancer-resistant life this year.

Nutrition as a Foundation

A well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins provides essential nutrients that support the body’s natural defenses. Antioxidants found in colorful fruits and vegetables, for example, play a crucial role in neutralizing free radicals and reducing the risk of cancer.

“This [is] especially true for…cancers attributable to Westernized diets, such as colorectal malignancies,” reports Harvard.

In a separate report, Harvard researchers pointed out some key things you can do:

  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. “There is strong evidence that eating whole grains protects against colorectal cancer, and that eating foods containing dietary fiber protects against colorectal cancer, weight gain, overweight, and obesity, which, as described above, increases the risk of many cancers,” adds Harvard.
  • Limit processed foods and foods high in saturated fats. “There is strong evidence that diets containing higher amounts of fast foods and other processed foods high in unhealthy fats, starches, or sugars, as well as consuming a ‘Western type’ diet (characterized by a high amount of added sugars, meat, and fat), are causes of weight gain, overweight, and obesity, which are a risk factor for many cancers,” they say.
  • Be careful with red meat. Instead, Harvard says that “poultry and seafood are generally healthier sources of protein as well as many of these other nutrients.”
  • Stay hydrated and reduce the intake of sugary beverages.
  • Avoid alcohol. “Every 10 grams of alcohol (as ethanol) consumed per day elevated the risks of these cancers by 4-25%,” they note.

Physical Activity and Cancer Prevention

Regular exercise not only helps maintain a healthy weight but also reduces the risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, incorporating activities that you enjoy, whether it’s walking, swimming, or cycling.

Physical activity not only boosts your overall well-being but also contributes to cancer prevention. And if you have a cancer diagnosis, it does wonders for improving your mental health, reducing your stress and anxiety levels, and setting the stage for your body to engage in its natural healing processes.

Screening and Early Detection

Early detection is often key to successful cancer treatment. Having an awareness of what’s normal for your body and recognizing when changes happen are often useful warning signs that it’s time to visit your trusted healthcare practitioner. They may recommend screening tests or other investigations and be sure to discuss any side-effects and potential risks of these.

Understanding your family history and risk factors can guide personalized recommendations.

Early detection can help you quickly adjust your lifestyle and diet to address the specific risk factors associated with your specific health concerns, helping you to prevent the disease from progressing further.

Holistic Approaches to Wellness

Integrating holistic approaches to wellness, such as stress management, adequate sleep, and mindfulness practices, can also contribute to cancer prevention. A holistic approach addresses the interconnected aspects of physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Specific strategies include:

  • Minimizing exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins, both at home and in the workplace.
  • Practicing stress-reducing techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga. Chronic stress may contribute to various health issues, including an increased cancer risk.
  • Prioritizing good sleep hygiene by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Considering complementary therapies such as acupuncture or massage for relaxation and stress relief, especially if you have a cancer diagnosis.

As we observe National Cancer Prevention Month, we can collectively commit to adopting healthier lifestyles, encouraging regular check-ups, and spreading awareness within our communities. Through education, empowerment, and proactive choices, we can make significant strides in the ongoing fight against cancer. Together, we can build a future where prevention is a powerful shield, protecting lives from the impact of this formidable disease.

References:

  • https://www.aacr.org/patients-caregivers/awareness-months/national-cancer-prevention-month/
  • https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/02/1146127
  • https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/the-cancer-miracle-isnt-a-cure-its-prevention/
  • https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/cancer/preventing-cancer/