Can you cut your cancer risk by half? (12/12/11)
Health Versus Health Care
America’s health care budget is 2.6 trillion dollars. On its own it would rank as the fifth largest economy in the world.
We’re 49th in overall mortality.
How much of this vast spending goes to health prevention? A pittance.
Not enough people make money on preventing illness, though plenty make money treating it. What’s most cost-effective for our national health does not yet gain entrance to the health care debate.
So you’re stuck – you’re going to have to take care of yourself on your own. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do.
Let’s look at what is fast becoming the leading cause of death – cancer.
Cancer Research UK
Professor Max Parkin and company from Queen Mary University of London and Cancer Research UK have just published in the British Journal of Cancer a survey of cancer risks for the UK – which will be similar to those here. The good news – close to half of deadly tumors (they don’t include basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, for example) are preventable by your actions. About 34% of total risk was associated with tobacco, diet, alcohol and weight.
For men, the big preventable factors were smoking, how much fruit and vegetables they ate, and how much they drank.
Tobacco was a big factor for women’s cancer risk but so was weight. The data were consistent with the US National Institute of Medicine report on breast cancer, pointing out that weight, estrogen use post menopause, alcohol, and radiation exposure were major preventable factors. Breast cancer now hits one in eight American women.
Problems with the Study
Our lives are ruled by probability. Population studies – epidemiology – try to control endless human variables with complex statistical methods. The results are inevitably not perfect – nor will they ever be.
The Cancer Research UK workby Parkin often used meta-analyses – pooled analysis of many different studies – to create its risk numbers. When methodology is less than great, errors creep in.
Also – overall diet was not looked at – only supposed vegetable and fruit consumption. And many factors overlap – separating effects of diet versus physical activity on weight is not easy.
Plus the study left out a major focus of prevention – environmental factors.
Add on other factors not studied – like foods other than fruits and vegetables, or cleaner water – and prevention rates could be well north of 50%.
What You Can Do to Prevent Cancer
The simple answer is – lots. Here are some suggestions:
1. Don’t start smoking – or do what’s necessary to quit. With chantix, nicotine patches, gums, atropine shots, and cognitive behavioral therapy, smoking is preventable and treatable. Plus cigarettes and cigars are ruinously expensive – which prevents teenagers from getting started.
2. Eat a pound combined of vegetables and fruits each day. Sound difficult? It isn’t. The recommended “five daily portions of vegetables and fruits” works out to 400 gm – less than the 454 grams in a pound.
Many fruits and vegetables – like bananas, kale, sweet potatoes – cost less than a dollar a pound. Many a navel orange weighs half a pound or more. Dried beans – like pinto and lentils – are cheap and easy to prepare.
3. Eat breakfast and walk after meals. Many studies demonstrate that weight control is very difficult without breakfast – which can consist of something as quick and cheap as an apple and a banana. And walking after meals immediately slows digestion – plus the glucose and insulin peaks that lead to belly fat.
4. Treat alcohol as a drug. Even small amounts may increase cancer rates – as was shown in these studies. Yet small regular amounts – one drink a day – may decrease coronary artery disease.
5. Wear a hat – and long sleeves – outside. Melanoma is increasing rapidly and globally, and is less common when you cover skin and apply sunblocks.
Your skin will look younger, too.
Being healthy is about staying healthy. Cancer scares people stiff. Much of it is preventable.
Money politics has fostered political gridlock. Don’t expect much government help on the environment, food policy, or encouraging physical activity. Lobbyists even got pizza declared a vegetable for school lunches. Public health is not on the political radar.
So you’ll have to do this yourself. It’s good cancer prevention is relatively simple.
And cheap. It’s nice when you can help save your money – and your life.
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