Some 90% of cancers have an environmental or nongenetic component, so you can do a lot to prevent this deadly disease.
Paranoia would be a perfectly logical response to this cancer-prevention book. You might be tempted to rifle through your medicine cabinet and laundry room shelves, disposing of any product that isn’t vinegar, baking soda or bottled water. You may never use an air freshener again or allow another French fry to pass between your lips. Dr. Lynne Eldridge and her brother, epidemiologist David Borgeson, warn against becoming fanatical in attempting to reduce carcinogenic threats in your environment. But they aren’t apologetic about presenting a wealth of valuable information that could help prolong your life. The authors admit that links between certain chemicals and cancers are inconclusive, and they judge the medical establishment pretty harshly. Then they present the most current information based on studies and statistics and leave it to you to accept or reject their recommendations. We recommends this book in the belief that much of what the authors cover makes sense. Don’t get scared; get busy.
- The overall cancer mortality rate has not dropped in nearly 60 years.
- Smoking and obesity are the two biggest causes of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.
- People in many European countries smoke more than Americans but have longer lifespans. Europeans also eat well, walk extensively and take longer vacations.
- All adults should consider vaccinations for Hepatitis B, which can cause liver cancer.
- Sensible sun exposure provides you with vitamin D, an anti-cancer vitamin.
- Houseplants help filter harmful substances in the air.
- As a general rule, use a mask and gloves with all chemicals.
- Stress can adversely affect your immune system and can trigger cancer.
- Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day significantly reduces cancer risk. Shun fast food, fat and harmful food additives.
- Sleeping in total darkness ensures the maximum production of melatonin, a hormone that guards against breast cancer.
An Ounce of Prevention
Cancer prevention has always taken a back seat to finding cancer cures and treatments. Financial incentives are the main reason why the U.S. cancer mortality rate has not changed in the last 60 years, despite billions of dollars worth of research. Developing a new chemotherapy drug is much more profitable than teaching people how to prevent a tumor. Injecting livestock with hormones and antibiotics, and spraying crops with pesticides creates more revenue than studying the effects of those substances on human beings. Doctors make more money treating cancer patients than educating them. Most consumers prefer picking up fast, convenient foods to spending time carefully shopping for healthy, preservative-free items.
“We are willing to spend thousands of dollars and explore alternative medical practices once we are diagnosed with a tumor, but we spend little to educate ourselves about ways of avoiding disease in the first place.”
Undeniable evidence links nongenetic or environmental factors – tobacco, alcohol, infection, radiation, and pollution – to cancer. A great deal of controversy exists concerning the causes of certain cancers and the efficacy of particular preventative measures. Nevertheless, consumers should be educated and encouraged to pursue knowledge that could save their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
“The Environment and Cancer Prevention”
The most threatening environmental carcinogens are sunlight and radon, a radioactive gas that enters houses through cracks, openings, and gaps. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer and radon is the second. Homes should be tested to determine whether their radon level is acceptable. Proper ventilation can reduce your family’s exposure to radon. Homebuyers and sellers are advised to test for radon.
“This book is designed to provide practical and, in many cases, simple ideas to decrease your risk of developing cancer.”
The incidence of skin cancer has risen dramatically during the past 40 years, even though only 5% of cases are malignant melanomas, the most deadly type. Proper protection lowers your risk and also allows you to enjoy the health benefits of sunlight, which provides vitamin D and helps prevent certain cancers. To protect your health, stay out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., apply sunscreen with at an SPF of at least 15 and wear “loose-fitting, tightly woven fabrics” in the sun.
“It is up to us as individuals to educate ourselves and adopt lifestyles consistent with cancer prevention.”
A NASA scientist found that certain plants can remove airborne carcinogens, such as formaldehyde (heartleaf philodendron, spider plant), benzene (gerbera daisy, chrysanthemum) and trichloroethylene (ficus). Shoot for about 15 houseplants (in six-inch or larger containers) per 2000 square feet of floor space. The more fresh air that circulates in your home, the better. Avoid commercial air fresheners and dry cleaning if possible, and use alternatives to common household products since many contain chemical carcinogens. Vinegar and baking soda are the most important ingredients in your arsenal of alternative cleaning supplies. Outdoors and indoors, if you must use pesticides, reduce the threat by using a mask, gloves and protective clothing.
“Infection and Cancer Prevention”
Although science has eradicated smallpox and virtually eliminated polio, even today German measles, diphtheria, tetanus, and infectious diseases are responsible for approximately one-tenth of cancers diagnosed in the United States and one-quarter of cases worldwide. Science still has no cure for HIV which causes AIDS, but also cancer (especially Kaposi’s sarcoma and lymphomas). Hepatitis B causes the most liver cancer throughout the world and H. pylori are the number-one cause of stomach cancer.
“We are not ‘sitting ducks’ awaiting massacre by carcinogens; we have a lot we can do to minimize the risks at hand.”
Hepatitis B is transmitted through intravenous drug use and sexual contact. But, because the virus is also transmitted in many unknown ways, all children and adolescents should have routine vaccinations. Human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, causes cervical and oral cancer. HPV vaccination and the practice of safe sex drastically reduce this risk. Travelers should take precautions against infections that are prevalent in the regions around their destinations.
“Lifestyle and Cancer Prevention”
Tobacco is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., with 87% of lung cancer cases traceable to smoking, which can also cause kidney, bladder, pancreas and stomach cancer. Although teenagers continue to start smoking, despite knowing the dangers, overall smoking is on the decline. Quitting is always worthwhile, and has an immediate helpful effect on the body, from an instant improvement in heart rate to a long-term improvement in cancer risk. Evidence strongly suggests that other lifestyle habits contribute to cancer-related fatalities. Americans smoke less than people in many European countries, yet they have shorter life expectancies. Why? Maybe because Europeans walk a lot, eat better and enjoy more weeks of vacation.
“Moderation and a general awareness of concerns in our environment are key.”
Unless the U.S. population’s health habits change rapidly, obesity will soon overtake smoking as the number one preventable cause of cancer in America. More than 30% of adult Americans are obese. The major culprit appears to be larger portions, a trend which began in restaurants and is reinforced in most homes. Excess weight contributes to the development of a variety of cancers by affecting the body’s levels of estrogen and insulin. Body mass index is a good indication of your level of risk. Here are a few tips you can follow for weight management:
- Substitute fresh vegetables for high-calorie snacks and avoid all soft drinks.
- Eat slowly, don’t eat in front of the TV and don’t eat out of boredom.
- Stop when you are full.
- Always eat a good breakfast – and not a glazed doughnut.
- Grocery shop on a full stomach.
- Enjoy an indulgent food periodically.
- Avoid fried foods.
- Decrease fat by taking the skin off chicken, substituting olive oil for butter, and eating more fish and low-fat dairy. When you hanker for red meat, try buffalo instead of beef.
“Taking a thorough family history of cancer and relaying the information to your health-care provider is an important part of your cancer prevention arsenal.”
Physical exercise is enormously beneficial in weight control. The American Cancer Society recommends 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. You can increase your activity level numerous ways, including using the stairs and not the elevator, parking far from your destination, helping your elderly neighbors with their yard work, or signing up for a dancing, yoga or Pilates class. Reinforce the importance of exercise for the children in your life by limiting their TV, video and computer time. Show them that exercise is a priority for you, take walks with them and make physical activities fun. Without being pushy, encourage your kids to participate in sports.
“One food or dietary plan does not prevent cancer on its own. Consuming a wide variety of foods should be the central theme of a healthy diet.”
Stress, anger and depression can harm the body’s endocrine and immune systems, making individuals who suffer these conditions more prone to developing cancer. For stress reduction, surround yourself with optimistic friends, skip the TV news, set priorities, read uplifting books, and don’t forget to laugh and play.
“Being overweight or obese is the cause of roughly 80% of diabetes, and diabetes is a risk factor for cancer.”
Getting a good night’s sleep decreases your risk of cancer because circadian rhythms affect hormone production, heart rate, and body temperature. Additionally, the hormone melatonin that is secreted during darkness decreases estrogen production and reduces the risk of breast cancer. Any light in the bedroom, including a night-light, can limit the body’s production of melatonin. Use your bedroom only for sex and sleep. Healthy sex life may help prevent cancer. Studies have shown that orgasms in both men and women release substances that reduce the risk of breast cancer.
“Medicine and Cancer Prevention”
The development of new prescription drugs, and new medical procedures and tests during the last 50 years has greatly benefited society. Conversely, it has also opened the door to greater possibilities of adverse reactions, unanticipated side effects, and complications. A 2004 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association linked higher antibiotic use with an increased risk of breast cancer in women. In general, the overprescribing of antibiotics is creating increasingly resistant germs.
“Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable cancer in the United States, accounting for 30% of all cancers.”
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat menopausal symptoms is also problematic since the International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified estrogen therapy as a carcinogen. Women who use HRT should be on the lowest possible doses for the shortest amount of time. Anabolic steroids used to treat wasting illnesses and to boost athletic performance, probably are carcinogenic. Avoid them except for necessary, legitimate medical use.
“Within 20 minutes after you smoke that last cigarette, your body begins a series of changes that continue for years…one year after quitting, your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s…10 years after quitting, your lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker’s.”
Although the benefits of diagnostic tools, such as X-rays, MRI, and ultrasound, far outweigh the risks, safety should always be your paramount concern. Is the X-ray technician competent? Has the equipment been inspected by the proper authorities? Keep CT scans to a minimum, particularly when it comes to treating children. Full-body CT scans, promoted as a way to detect hidden diseases, are not recommended for healthy adults. Radiation exposure in a typical scan equals that of some survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs.
“Much of what we need to do to prevent cancer comes down to common sense, something that is often overlooked in our rapidly paced, high-tech society.”
Certain medical conditions, such as colon polyps, gastroesophageal reflux disease, inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes can increase a person’s predisposition to cancer. Your health-care provider needs to know your family history. Around 10% of cancers have a “genetic predisposition,” meaning that for 90% environmental factors are responsible; those can be identified and changed. Even if cancer runs in your family, you can take steps to improve the odds in your favor.
“Nutrition and Cancer Prevention”
Your dietary game plan in the battle against carcinogens should include five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. That reduces a person’s risk of developing cancer up to 50% in comparison to those who have just one or two daily servings.
“We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.” [– Alfred E. Newman]
Training children to eat properly is important. Teach them from an early age to snack on fruit, and celery and carrot sticks instead of potato chips, crackers, and cookies. Be a positive role model; eat healthy foods yourself. Don’t insist that your kids eat everything on their plates, and teach them to check food labels.
Eat fast food infrequently. Getting into the fast-food habit is one of the biggest mistakes you can make with children. According to a 2005 study, eating fast food twice a week or more often can make you 50% more likely to become obese. Fast foods are calorie-dense and loaded with trans fats. If you are going to indulge in fast food, make it an infrequent stop, skip the soda and fries, and don’t load your salad with fattening dressing.
You want to consume food items that are less likely to be tainted by hormones and pesticides. Organic products are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., despite their higher cost. Studies have shown that exposure to pesticides significantly increases cancer risk. Common produce items, such as apples, grapes, peaches, potatoes, celery and bell peppers, should always be organic. Buy organic beef and chicken, which are free of hormones and antibiotics.
Eat the good stuff, and avoid (or use sparingly) the foods and food additives that can harm you, including refined sugar, trans fats, pickled and smoked foods, nitrates and nitrites, and food dyes.
Seek the many foods that are high in antioxidants, which help prevent cancer. The list includes green tea, fish, blueberries, apples, spinach, beans, red grapes, Brazil nuts, avocados, carrots, whole grains, and sweet potatoes. One dark-chocolate candy bar contains the same amount of polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants than you get in “two days’ worth of eating fruits and vegetables.” But remember that you get lots more nutrients from veggies, and lots more calories from chocolate. If you want that chocolate moment, hot cocoa has far less fat than chocolate candy, and it beats even green tea and red wine for antioxidants.
About the Authors
Lynne Eldridge, M.D., who practiced family medicine for 15 years, now specializes in cancer prevention and nutrition. David Borgeson, MS, MPT, has worked as an epidemiologist and physical therapist.