An Echo Press Editorial: Best way to fight cancer — preventing it
By the Echo Press Editorial Board
An estimated 1.9 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2022, according to the American Cancer Society.
Although cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years and continue to improve, there are ways to reduce the risk factors associated with the disease.
About 50% of the most common cancer cases are preventable, according to the American Association for Cancer Research.
To mark National Cancer Prevention Month this February, the University of Minnesota School of Public Health is focusing on behaviors and other steps people can take for the prevention and early detection of cancer.
Irina Stepanov, a professor with the university, said in a news release that significant advances have been made in treating many types of cancer, but it’s important to remember that there are ways to reduce the risk for developing certain cancers in the first place. Stepanov said this needs to be done at multiple levels – from individual choices to healthcare-level practices and public health policies.
Stepanov is the director of the Institute for Global Cancer Prevention Research at the University of Minnesota – https://igcpr.umn.edu/ – which fosters multidisciplinary research and innovation to inform cancer prevention practices and policy-level change.
Stepanov lists these steps that individuals can take to reduce their cancer risk:
- Don’t use tobacco. There are no safe forms of commercial tobacco. Cigarettes and other commercial tobacco products contain numerous cancer-causing chemicals.
- Limit alcohol use. Drinking alcohol leads to DNA damage. By limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, you can reduce the chances of DNA damage accumulating and becoming a source of cancer-causing mutations.
- Protect your skin. Seeking shade and using sunscreen are good ways to protect your skin from cancer-causing UV radiation. Never use UV tanning beds.
- Maintain a healthy diet. A healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables rich in cancer-preventing bioactive compounds can help to reduce risk for colon, breast, and other cancers.
- Engage in physical activity. Regular physical activity can also lower the risk for many cancers.
- Use screening tests regularly. Catching cancers at early stages saves lives! There are established screening tests for early detection of breast cancer, cervical cancer, and colorectal cancer.
- Get vaccinated against cancer-causing viruses. For example, vaccines for human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B help to prevent cervical and liver cancers.
If you think these steps aren’t worth the effort, think again. Consider just one of those steps – diet. While some people have a higher genetic risk to develop cancer, research shows that nearly 25% of overall cancer cases could be prevented with diet and nutrition alone, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many cancers can take 10 or more years to develop, so everyday nutrition choices are crucial in cancer prevention, the clinic says.
The clinic recommends a plant-based diet full of fruits, vegetables and legumes, with little or no meat or other animal products. In research studies, vegans, people who don't eat any animal products, including fish, dairy or eggs, appeared to have the lowest rates of cancer of any diet, according to the clinic. The next lowest rate was for vegetarians, people who avoid meat but may eat fish or foods that come from animals, such as milk or eggs.
Plant-based foods do more than taste delicious, the clinic noted. They are full of chemical compounds, called phytochemicals, that protect the body from damage. Phytochemicals also interrupt processes in the body that encourage cancer production. Plant-based diets also are high in fiber, which has been shown to lower the risk for breast and colorectal cancer.
For more information, go to the American Cancer Society website, cancer.org , or the Mayo Clinic at mayoclinic.org .