The Hope Of A Preventable Cancer

Is there a way to modify our lifestyle to lower our risk of cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, it’s estimated that in 2018, cancer will claim the lives of 609,640 people in the United States alone, and there are an estimated 1.7 million new cases of cancer to be diagnosed. Worldwide cancer is one of the leading causes of death. In 2012, 14.1 million new cases involving cancer were diagnosed, leading to 8.2 million deaths. The most common cancers of today include the following: breast, lung, prostate, colon, rectal, melanoma of the skin, bladder, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney, renal pelvis, endometrial, leukemia, pancreatic, thyroid, and liver cancer.

Cancer has touched every one of us in some way, be it a close relative, a friend, or coworker. This deadly disease has brought great emotional pain to our world. The statistics on cancer’s effect on U.S citizens are staggering. Approximately 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime.

Cancer in our youth

Sadly, cancer isn’t only affecting adults; it’s been increasingly diagnosed in children and adolescents. Per the NIH, 15,270 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 were diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Healthcare providers and researchers are working at an extreme pace to reach a solution to preventing this mortal disease that is plaguing our society. In this sad array of information, the good news is that the NIH estimated that there were 15.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. in 2016. It’s predicted that the number of survivors is expected to increase even further to 20.3 million by 2026.

How can we increase the rate of cancer survivors? Better yet, how can we prevent the increase of cancer patients?

The connection between red meat and cancer

The American Institute for Cancer Research analyzed how consuming meat affects the risk of developing cancer. Animal foods include animal flesh and foods that are produced by animals. Animal foods are processed before consumption by smoking, curing, salting, and the addition of preservatives. Particularly, meat and fish are cooked at high temperatures during frying, grilling, boiling, or barbecuing.

These methods of preparation can change the chemical composition of meat. The Institute for Cancer Research concluded that red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer, processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer, and Cantonese-style salted fish increases the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer. Another study found evidence that indicates that diary harbors a higher risk of prostate cancer. One can see that eating flesh meats might increase the risk of cancer in individuals.

How does the chemical composition of red meat change? By cooking meats at high temperatures results in the formation of heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Astonishingly, both chemical structures are linked to the development of colorectal cancer. Red meat has high heme iron, which stimulates colorectal tumorigenesis. Heme iron stimulates the endogenous formation of carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds. When meat is burnt incompletely, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed. These specific hydrocarbons have carcinogenic potential. Also, these polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons come from fat dropping off the cooking meat contacting the flames and sticking to the surface of the food. Who would have thought that food could affect our bodies in this way?

The danger in processed meat

What about processed meat? Processed meat is rich in fat, protein, and heme iron, which sparks tumorigenesis through the same mechanisms mentioned above. The cooking of processed meat at high temperatures introduces an increased exposure to heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Since processed meat is so much higher in fat content, it leads to carcinogenesis through the synthesis of secondary bile acids as well. It is almost unfathomable just how greatly processed meat hurts our bodies and helps cancer to grow.

“The evidence on processed meat and cancer is clear-cut. The data show that no level of intake can confidently be associated with a lack of risk. Processed meats are often high in salt, which can also increase the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease,”  – Professor Martin Wiseman, WCRF International’s Medical and Scientific Adviser.

Cancer is preventable!

It’s shocking to think that cancer can be preventable, isn’t it? Lifestyle is the contributing factor to a healthy body. Scientists and health providers have known this for a long time, but as we enter an age of increased chronic diseases-healthcare providers are realizing the only way to beat this trend is to change society’s lifestyle practices. Who would have thought that lifestyle could alter cancer’s effect? Could this be a key to stopping cancer’s destructive pathway?

“The food we eat, how active we are and how much we weigh are all things that influence our risk of cancer, and all of these factors are modifiable – there are things people can do to reduce their risk.” – Dr. Kate Allen, Executive Director, Science and Public Affairs

A plant-based diet for cancer prevention

We spoke about many foods that increase the risk of cancer, but what foods decrease the risk for cancer or prevent it altogether? A high-fiber, plant-based diet is the solution to preventing cancer. This diet includes foods like grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. These plant-based foods protect against the risk of all forms of cancer caused by meat and can even protect against breast cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) recommends the whole, planted-based foods as a solution to prevent cancer. Maybe giving those foods we find detestable, vegetables and fruit, a “shot” and decrease the risk of cancer.

“Our evidence suggests the greatest risk is for people who consume no or hardly any vegetables or fruit,”  – Dr. Rachel Thompson, WCRF’s Head of Research Interpretation.

The WCRF concludes that one can reduce the risk of cancer by 40% by avoiding processed meat, red meat, dairy, sugary drinks, alcohol, and by committing to regular exercise.

When it comes to your health, where are your priorities?

Health educators have an urgent task to inform the public about how they can make this transition in their lifestyle. It is not an easy change when it has been a familiar way of life. But it can be done and the results will be astounding. After all, it is your life and health, so take charge of your lifestyle today.


Raeann Leal

Raeann is a graduate student at Loma Linda University School of Public Health pursuing her MPH in Lifestyle Medicine. In her free time, Raeann likes to cook unique and healthy dishes, read relevant and recent research articles related to diseases and their cures, and experience the outdoors.

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