Healthy living is a way of life which incorporates not only abstaining from high risk behaviors’ but also, ways of staying fit on all fronts – physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual too. And when we talk in terms of preventing cancer this holds, utmost.
Surely, causes of cancer are multi-factorial and many times unknown, so similarly prevention strategies have to be multi-prong and may not still be so perfect so as to lead to absolute protection. Here are some:
SAY NO TO TOBACCO
Tobacco in any form is responsible for 40-50% of cancers that affect our society. Chewable tobacco can cause mainly oral cancers and smoked tobacco can cause all upper aero-digestive tract cancers, bladder and kidney cancers, breast, pancreas and even blood cancers. The relationship is dependant on severity of exposure. There are around 100 chemicals in tobacco products which are considered harmful and carcinogenic. Notably, lung cancer is the topmost cause of cancer death in the world, of which 85% are related to tobacco. Hence, it would not be wrong to say that cancer incidence can be reduced by 50% if tobacco is removed from the society.
Alcohol has been linked to increased risk of digestive tract cancers including food pipe, stomach, pancreas, liver and large intestine. No recommendation can be made on any safe limit of consumption.
We are what we eat, and so is our health. Foods rich in calories and saturated fats increase cancer risk. It is imperative to include fresh vegetables, fruits, quality proteins such as wheat flour, groundnut, soya, calcium and Vitamin-D rich food items to make balanced diet to avoid cancer. Non-vegetarians should limit intake of red meat. Also, 6-8 glasses of clean drinking water per day are essential for body metabolism and should be consumed. It also important to limit or avoid food items and beverages at extremes of temperature, as is foods which are spicy or have high salt content such as pickles.
EXERCISE (PHYSICAL AND MENTAL FITNESS)
150 mins of exercise per week is essential to maintain a good basal metabolic rate (BMR), body mass index and hormonal balance. Brisk walking, light jogging, yoga, aerobic exercises and outdoor sports/games are good for cardio-respiratory system and help maintain BMR. It is a fact that any form of exercise also act as a de-stressing tool and help revive mental health and channelize energy in the right direction. Such measures curtail obesity and keep stress hormones at bay which in turn can prevent cancer. Just 10 mins of meditation per day can maintain mental health and de-stress body and mind.
It is more essential to maintain a balanced diet so as supplementation from outside is not required. There are lot of differing reports on supplementation with superdoses of vitamins and cannot be recommended. Any multivitamin + multimineral combination which just meets standard daily allowances can be consumed without any ill-effect, however role in preventing cancer is questionable.
Certain cancers are linked to unsafe sexual practices. Multiple partners, lack of barrier contraception can lead to transmission of viruses which can cause cancer. Examples are:
Human papilloma virus (HPV) for (cervical, vaginal, vulval, anal and oral cancers); Hepatitis B and C for (Liver cancers), HIV for (Lymphomas, sarcomas).
2 vaccines have been approved for use to prevent cancer :
HPV vaccine for cervical cancers – between the age of 9 – 13 yrs and catch up vaccination upto age of 25 yrs (preferably before coitarche). It provides 99% protection against HPV infection which is the root cause of almost all cervical cancers.
2nd is Hepatitis B vaccine for Liver cancer.
Tamoxifen and exemestane – breast cancer hormonal drug has been approved for use, in preventing breast cancer for those who are at high risk. This amounts to careful calculation of risk by specific risk models and then recommending risk reduction strategy, such as these drugs which just amounts to taking a pill a day. Notably these risk models have not been adapted to our society, and are copied from the West.
Finasteride and Dutasteride are also drugs which have shown to reduce prostate cancer risk, however strong recommendation for general use cannot be made without adequate counseling for risk benefit ratio.
Certain other commonly used drugs such as metformin for diabetes, lipid lowering drugs such as statins, aspirin for heart diseases have shown some protective effect against some cancers.
Those with strong family history of cancer consult in family specifically breast, ovarian and large intestine cancers can be tested for germ/genetic mutations, which when found positive can undergo preventive surgeries. Such surgeries include removal of breast (mastectomy) mostly with reconstruction, ovaries and uterus (hysterectomy and salpingo-oopherectomy) and large intestine (colectomy).