30 years ago “epidemiologists were already showing that tobacco, alcohol, and diet — which in their definition was the sum of dietary intake, lack of physical activity, and obesity — accounted for more than half of all cancer. We can’t expect these changes in outcome to occur overnight, but they could bring huge benefits to society.” states Dr Colditz at the World Cancer Congress 2012.
That statement was made 30 years ago and now we know, as Dr. Colditz states, that smoking, being inactive, drinking alcohol, obesity are preventable lifestyle factors in a significant number of cancers. What does this mean? Dr. Colditz among others believes that “Improvement in diet could reduce cancer incidence by 50% and increases in physical activity could reduce cancer incidence by as much as 85% in 5 to 20 years.” It also means that you can do something to reduce your risk. the National Cancer Institute lists the top ten risk factors and 6 of the top 10 are ones you can do something about. While you can’t change your family history, hormones, getting older or even some exposure to chemicals you can reduce the majority of risk factors.
What do risk factors mean? This is where the stats get confusing. Does it mean I will get cancer if I don’t change my lifestyle? Not necessarily, everyone has a story of their aunt/grandmother/ someone who smoked and drank everyday and lived to 150 or so. But, not changing your lifestyle is a little like betting against the house in Vegas. You know that sometimes, someone wins big, but most of the time, most of the people lose. There is absolute risk – what are my chances of developing cancer in the next 5 years? And relative risk, or the relationship between a behaviour like smoking, and developing cancer. Relative risk is one where you have some control.
While 5-10% of all cancers can be linked to genetics even people with healthy genes can develop cancer by changes or mutations due to lifestyle factors. This is where we could and should be making the greatest changes in the fight against cancer. The World Health Organization states “At least one-third of all cancer cases are preventable. Prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer.” With tobacco being the single greatest risk factor followed by physical inactivity, dietary factors, obesity and being overweight and then alcohol consumption.
A study from Cancer Research UK states that for men and women excess weight is the most important risk factor after smoking. Author and researcher Jane Wade, PhD says “What many people don’t realize is that extra fat around the middle — their ‘muffin top’ — is surprisingly active, releasing hormones and other chemicals that can make cells in the body divide far more often than usual, which can increase the risk of cancer,” and we know that at least 60% of the developed world’s population has a weight problem.
Why doesn’t this get promoted more? Does your doctor tell you that you can do your part to prevent cancer? Do cancer fundraisers serve healthy food, non- alcoholic beverages, stress that lifestyle is a risk factor? Did you know that extra weight was a risk factor? Too often the answer is no. While you may do everything you can and still get cancer (we can’t control everything in our environment) why not increase the odds that you will stay healthy. You can eat well, exercise regularly and reduce your personal risk.
Change your mind, change your health,
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