Contrary to popular belief, cancer is not one disease. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is a group of diseases that can affect any body organ or tissue. It occurs when uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells out number normal ones and so, can present differently depending on location.
Although over 200 different types of cancers have so far been identified, the most common cancers worldwide include: lung, breast, colorectal, prostate and skin. This short list alone highlights the fact that cancer does not discriminate.
There are various risk factors to take into consideration with regards to cancer. These range from internal (like genetics) and environmental (like UV radiation) factors to occupational (exposure to certain chemicals) and lifestyle (diet) factors. It is evident that some factors are more within our control than others.
Managing Lifestyle Factors
In terms of lifestyle factors, the age-old adage of diet and exercise rings true. Good nutrition can be a preventative tool and the choice to live an active lifestyle can go a long way too.
For instance, according to Harvard Health Publishing, every 10% increase of processed food consumption equates to a 12% higher risk for cancer. Processed foods, usually high in sodium or sugar and saturated fats are recognised as highly acidic in the body- not to mention often times, stripped of valuable nutrients. It is therefore of paramount importance to eat these foods in moderation. The body thrives on an alkaline pH and food groups that help this are a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, protein sources and a small amount of healthy fat.
Fruits and vegetables of varying colours and whole grains contain antioxidants which fight free radicals therefore reducing cancer formation. While legumes are packed with phytochemicals and animal sources like fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids for a start.
With regards to exercise, 150 minutes is recommended weekly and this can be broken down to whatever is convenient to you, whether that be in 10 minute increments or 30-60 minutes.
Another aspect of lifestyle that can be managed is stress. Although a certain level of stress is healthy (eustress), it becomes an issue if mis-managed or not managed at all (distress). Here are a few tips that can help:
- Get moving- physical activity releases endorphins, known as feel good hormones that can really boost mood and reduce stress.
- Practice mindful eating- instead of multi-tasking, try having at least one meal with no distractions. Really focus on the plate as this aid in digestion and nutrient absorption, can bring a sense of calm and recharge to smartly tackle the rest of a stressful day.
- Limit screen time- In this time of working from home for some, screen time has ultimately increased. Reducing phone and laptop use at least half hour to an hour before bed can greatly improve sleep quality by encouraging the timely release of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
In addition, it is important to screen annually as part of your general check -up especially if there is a genetic predisposition to the disease.