Knowing your risk factors for Cancer
Recently I attended the International Oncology Support Summit, hosted by BioMedica Nutraceuticals in Sydney. While the majority of the summit focused on supporting people who have cancer and are undergoing treatment, the fact was once again emphasised that most cancers are caused by preventable dietary and lifestyle factors. Your genetic risk factors only play a small role in the probability of your getting cancer. This reminded me once again of the importance of being aware of what these increased risk factors are, and trying to minimise them in your life. Here are some things which cause DNA damage (the start of cancer growth) that you should keep in mind:
Tobacco tar (from cigarettes) contains carcinogenic substances. If you smoke, make every effort to stop, and if you don’t smoke, avoid second hand smoke exposure
Stress: poorly managed chronic stress can lead to a chronic inflammatory situation in the body (a big warning sign for your health). Identifying and dealing with the causes of stress in your life is essential. Reduce your workload, resolve conflicts and consider a stress management program (massage therapy, regular meditation and relaxation exercises)
Sleep is another important area to get under control – up to 80% of the population suffer from poor or disrupted sleep, and this is linked to hormonal changes and immune suppression
Sedentary lifestyle: this is one of the biggest modern day risk factors, and one that is easy to address – make sure that you are not sitting for prolonged periods of time. Get up regularly to walk to the kitchen/bathroom at work, or even better talk a walk around the block. Take the stairs wherever you can instead of the lift and try getting off the bus/train one stop earlier than normal and walking the rest of the way.
Chronic infections: Any viral infection (for example H Pylori) can lead to chronic inflammation in the body. The goal is to support your immune system so that viruses and bacteria don’t stand a chance in getting established and setting off conditions for chronic inflammation (not to mention making you very sick at the same time!)
Ultraviolet radiation: Too much sun exposure, at the wrong times of the day can lead to DNA damage. Avoid sun exposure during the hottest part of the day, but be aware that we all need SOME daily sun exposure to produce vitamin D and melatonin. Low vitamin D levels have been found to be an independent risk factor for cancer. So be sure to get some sun exposure every day – at least 15 minutes, before 10am or after 3pm (exposure needs to be direct, not through sunscreen or glass)
Environmental toxins: try to minimise your exposure to harmful toxins – these include pesticides/herbicides on food – buy organic produce where possible, and always wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating them. Harmful chemicals are found in common household cleaning products, and in building materials, furniture and fabric – educate yourself on what is around you, what you are breathing in or absorbing through skin contact. Pay special attention to what is in your cosmetics, perfumes, deodorants, sunscreens, nail polish – chemicals are absorbed easily through the skin and into the blood stream. Also avoid heating foods/drinks in plastic containers, polystyrene or Teflon.
And of course, try to eat a healthy and well balanced diet – nutrients are the corner stone of good health, and maximising your nutrient intake with every chance you get (by choosing healthier options at meal and snack times) is the best way to keep your immune system health and happy.
Fortunately for us, these days there are always safe alternatives, which are mostly readily available – the first step is to become aware, start asking questions and educate yourself to make safe choices. If you would like to discuss any of these preventative measures in more detail, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.