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My wife Kimberly was telling me the other day that 2015 has been quite a remarkable year in that we had several cancer episodes among our friends and families.  Even a couple of them died.

So, that got me thinking… is cancer preventable through optimal healthy living?

What is cancer anyways?

According National Institute of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI) website www.cancer.gov, cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases. In all types of cancer, some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into surrounding tissues.

Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

When cancer develops, however, this orderly process breaks down. As cells become more and more abnormal, old or damaged cells survive when they should die, and new cells form when they are not needed. These extra cells can divide without stopping and may form growths called tumors.

Many cancers form solid tumors, which are masses of tissue. Cancers of the blood, such as leukemias, generally do not form solid tumors.

Cancerous tumors are malignant, which means they can spread into, or invade, nearby tissues. In addition, as these tumors grow, some cancer cells can break off and travel to distant places in the body through the blood or the lymph system and form new tumors far from the original tumor.

A cancer that has spread from the place where it first started to another place in the body is called metastatic cancer. Under a microscope, metastatic cancer cells generally look the same as cells of the original cancer.

How does cancer arise?

Cancer is a genetic disease—that is, it is caused by changes to genes that control the way our cells function, especially how they grow and divide. Three main types of genes may be involved—proto-oncogenes or genes involved in normal cell growth, tumor suppressor genes, and DNA repair genes. These changes are sometimes called “drivers” of cancer.

Genetic changes that cause cancer can be inherited from our parents. They can also arise during a person’s lifetime as a result of errors that occur as cells divide or because of damage to DNA caused by certain environmental exposures. Cancer-causing environmental exposures include substances, such as the chemicals in tobacco smoke, and radiation, such as ultraviolet rays from the sun. (Our Cancer Causes and Risk Factors page has more information.)

Inherited genetic mutations play a major role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers. Researchers have associated mutations in specific genes with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes, which are disorders that may predispose individuals to developing certain cancers.

How to prevent cancer?

So, now finally getting to the topic we started with – how to prevent cancer. Here are the four major ways to help prevent cancer:

  1. Avoid or control things known to cause cancer.
  2. Changes in diet and lifestyle.
  3. Finding precancerous conditions early. Precancerous conditions are conditions that may become cancer.
  4. Chemoprevention (medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting).

Let us take these items one at a time.

  1. Avoid or control things known to cause cancer.

Factors that are known to increase the risk of cancer:

  • Cigarette Smoking and Tobacco Use
  • Infections: HPV, Hepatitis B and C, Espstein-Barr virus, Helcobater pylori
  • Radiation: Ultraviolet sunlight, medical radiation, radon gas in homes
  • Immunosuppressive Medicines
  1. Changes in diet and lifestyle

Factors that may affect the risk of cancer:

  • Diet
  • Alcohol
  • Physical Activity
  • Obesity
  • Environmental Risk Factors: second hand smoke, asbestos, air pollution, pesticides, arsenic in drinking ware

Diet is anything we put in our mouths on a regular basis.

Diet is always a controversial subject. Media loves to talk about any new tidbit that comes out through research regarding diet.

Some studies show that fruits and non-starchy vegetables may protect against cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Fruits may also protect against lung cancer.

Some studies have shown that a diet high in fat, proteins, calories, and red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer, but other studies have not shown this.

It is not known if a diet low in fat and high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables lowers the risk of colorectal cancer.

According to American Cancer Society website www.cancer.org, here are the dietary guidelines to prevent cancer:

  • Be as lean as possible throughout life without being underweight.
  • Avoid excess weight gain at all ages. For those who are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits and is a good place to start.
  • Choose foods and drinks in amounts that help you get to and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit how much processed meat and red meat you eat.
  • Eat at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.
  • Avoid alcohol or drink no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 per day for men.

T. Colin Campbell, PhD distills his 30 years of research on cancer and diet in “The China Study”. He concludes that a vegan diet minimizes the risk of all types of cancers as well as many other types of health risks.

For Physical Activity, American Cancer Society recommendation is for cancer prevention:

  • Exercise:
    • Adults: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.
    • Children and teens: Get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity each day, with vigorous activity on at least 3 days each week.
  • Limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, watching TV, and other forms of screen-based entertainment.

Doing some physical activity above usual activities, no matter what one’s level of activity, can have many health benefits.

  1. Finding cancer or precancerous conditions early. Precancerous conditions are conditions that may become cancer.

Then there is the matter of “early detection and early cure.”

Cancer is a group of diseases that can cause almost any sign or symptom. The signs and symptoms will depend on where the cancer is, how big it is, and how much it affects the organs or tissues. If a cancer has spread (metastasized), signs or symptoms may appear in different parts of the body.

 Treatments work best when cancer is found early – while it’s still small and is less likely to have spread to other parts of the body. This often means a better chance for a cure, especially if the cancer can be removed with surgery.

A good example of the importance of finding cancer early is melanoma skin cancer. It can be easy to remove if it has not grown deep into the skin. The 5-year survival rate (percentage of people who live at least 5 years after diagnosis) at this early stage is around 98%. Once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate drops to about 16%.

Some symptoms, such as tiredness or coughing, are more likely caused by something other than cancer. Symptoms can seem unimportant, especially if there’s a clear cause or the problem only lasts a short time. In the same way, a person may reason that a symptom like a breast lump is probably a cyst that will go away by itself. But no symptom should be ignored or overlooked, especially if it has lasted a long time or is getting worse.

Most likely, symptoms are not caused by cancer, but it’s important to have them checked out, just in case. If cancer is not the cause, a doctor can help figure out what the cause is and treat it, if needed.

These days it is not that difficult to get one’s genome mapped and find out any cancer syndromes that might be present and actively take the necessary preventative actions.

The American Cancer Society recommends these cancer screening guidelines for early detection of cancer  for most adults. Screening tests are used to find cancer before a person has any symptoms.

  1. Chemoprevention (medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting).

Chemoprevention is the use of substances to lower the risk of cancer, or keep it from recurring. The substances may be natural or made in the laboratory. Some chemopreventive agents are tested in people who are at high risk for a certain type of cancer. The risk may be because of a precancerous condition, family history, or lifestyle factors.

Some chemoprevention studies have shown good results. For example, selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMS) such as tamoxifen or raloxifene have been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women at high risk. Finasteride and dutasteride have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.


Cancer is a genetic disease that may be the result of either mutated inherited genes or the ones occur later due to health, lifestyle and environment issues.  Only about 5 to 10% of the risk of cancer is due to mutated inherited genes.

Yes, healthy lifestyle choices we have been discussing in other blog posts do lead to decreasing the chances of cancer.  To minimize the risk of cancer:

  1. Be of Lean weight
  2. Eat clean with lots of fruits and vegetables and only sparing amount of white meats
  3. Avoid the use of alcohol or tobacco
  4. Avoid second-hand smoke, pesticides and other environmental carcinogens
  5. Stay active and exercise
  6. Get regular checkups and screening tests
  7. In case of any signs or symptoms, get a quick check up to rule out any cancerous or precancerous condition.


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