According to Cancer.org, in 2021, there were "an estimated 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 608,570 cancer deaths in the United States." While that number is staggering, cancer doesn't have to be the death sentence that it once was. Eating a nutrient rich diet, taking preventive measures and seeing your doctor annually all help avoid getting cancer. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts who explained ways to prevent cancer and how to live a healthier lifestyle. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Screening for Cancer and Pre-Cancer
According to Dr. Steve Vasilev MD, quadruple board certified integrative gynecologic oncologist and medical director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at Providence Saint John's Health Center and Professor at Saint John's Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA, "Guidelines for cancer screening are developed by expert panels from various organizations, based on scientific evidence and statistics. Some examples are the American Cancer Society (ACS, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). The focus is on breast, uterine cervix, colon, prostate and those at high risk for lung cancer. These guidelines offer different screening options for some cancers and make recommendations regarding how often they should be done.
Why do we screen for some cancers and not others? If we had perfect tools we would ideally screen for all cancers and that time is coming soon in this new age of genomic molecular testing. But, unfortunately, the tests we have today are far from perfect and not well developed for many cancers. For example, uterine/endometrial and ovarian cancer have no effective screening tests. When you combine this limitation with rare cancers, like pancreatic, you are essentially looking for a needle in a haystack with ineffective tools. In addition to the risk of missing cancers, the risk of over treatment and complications from such treatment with false positive tests (i.e. the test is positive but there is no cancer present) becomes a problem as well."
Follow an Anti-Cancer Diet
Dr. Vasilev explains, "According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly 1/3 of all cancer deaths may be ascribed to our diets and bad lifestyle choices, including lack of exercise. If one includes chronic exposure to toxins, this number is very likely MUCH higher and may approach 75%. Only about 10% of all cancers are purely genetic in origin over which you have much less control. So, in the vast majority of cases, YOU are very much in control of your destiny. This is supported by 21st century sciences like epigenetics, nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics.
Anticancer diets aren't very elaborate and should not be expensive or confusing. Mainly you want to avoid the highly processed high fat, high glycemic index (i.e. lots of simple sugars) standard American diet, aptly abbreviated S.A.D. The diet with the most scientific data in terms of preventing cancer and other diseases is the traditional Mediterranean diet. Developing new information suggests that the closer you can get to a whole food predominantly plant based diet, combined with fresh caught cold water fish as the main or only animal protein, the better."
The term superfood is used a lot in the health community, but what exactly are superfoods? They're mostly plant-based, but some fish and dairy foods, that contain a variety of nutrients, such as antioxidants like blueberries, avocado and nuts. Dr. Vasilev says, "There are also a lot of superfoods and spices that may help in prevention or even fighting cancer. These include turmeric spice, brassica veggies, tomatoes, garlic and green tea. The list is very long and you can concoct what works for you by following the basics and then modify it to your personal taste."
Get Your Nutrients from Food and Not Supplements
Dr. Vasilev says, "The focus should be on getting all your nutrients from your diet, not from processed vitamins and supplement pills. While taking a daily multivitamin may help plug the minor deficiencies you may have with your particular diet, taking fistfuls of mega-vitamins and antioxidants to balance a poor diet is not recommended. In fact, this kind of practice can even increase your risk of cancer. Also, supplements can interfere with medications you may be taking. Having said that, there are exceptions. For example, most folks are vitamin D deficient these days. We know that having adequate vitamin D levels may help forestall some cancers and improve prognosis if cancer is diagnosed. But levels can be tested and adjusted accordingly rather than risking taking too much. So, work with a certified health-care professional when considering supplements. You can hurt yourself or waste a lot of money."
Maintaining an Overall Healthy Lifestyle
Dr. Richard Reitherman, MD, Ph.D., medical director of breast imaging at MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA says, "The best thing any of us can do to try to prevent cancer or other illnesses is to try to pursue a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating as much fresh food as possible, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and trying to keep processed foods to a minimum. Pursuing a normal weight is important to reduce risks for many diseases including cancer, diabetes and heart disease."
Dr. Reitherman states, "It is also important to make it a priority to take steps toward managing stress. Even simple things such as taking a walk or bike ride outdoors, or listening to music, can have a positive impact. While stress is a part of all of our lives, it can have a negative effect on our immune system, making it harder for our bodies to fight against illnesses, including cancer."
It is also beneficial to know your personal risk factors," Dr. Reitherman explains. "Talk to your doctor about your own medical history, as well as any family history of cancer. Some people may benefit from genetic counseling, which may reveal a need for additional tests." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.