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Health & Wellness

Cancer – What’s the Answer? Part III

Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan

By M. P. Ravindra Nathan,

What are the causes? 

The big news lately is the ovarian cancer of Chris Evert, the great tennis player and humanitarian, who recently commented that her cancer started insidiously and everybody should pay close attention to early signs and symptoms of cancer. The keys to an early diagnosis include keeping up to date with regular medical evaluations, knowing your family history and having a good understanding of the many risk factors.

 “The answer to cancer is never giving it a chance to start,” says Dr. Hari Sharma, Emeritus Professor and former director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Natural Products Research at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. That’s exactly right; there is universal agreement that nearly 40% of all cancers can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. Once cancer gets a foothold in your body, it will grow inexorably. Often, it’s asymptomatic in the initial stages and by the time it manifests clinically, we may lose precious time to make an effective cure.
Cancer is steadily on the increase and has become the second-leading cause of death in the world, behind only heart disease and may be the leading cause of death among adults aged 40-79. If you look at the various causes of cancer, often you will find they are preventable. Cancer is caused by changes (mutations) to the DNA within cells. And there are many factors that can induce the changes in the body and these are called risk factors and interestingly many are avoidable. Here is a list of the major risk factors.

  1. Smoking is the cause of more than 80% of all lung cancers that we see in our clinical practice. This devastating effect can be brought down if more people stop using tobacco products. Smoking can also cause cancer in literally any other organ, especially throat, mouth, esophagus, kidney and bladder. Nonsmokers like the spouses of smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke are also at risk for lung cancer.  
  2. Alcohol consumption: You already know excess alcohol use can result in cirrhosis of liver but this can also lead to liver cancer. Alcohol consumption increases the risk for other cancers too, like mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon and breasts. Studies show that alcohol can directly damage our DNA, which in turn will result in loss of ability for gene repair leading to increased cancer risk.
  3. Obesity: There is a strong link between carrying excess weight and cancers of colon, breast (especially for post menopausal women), pancreas and uterus (endometrial).  Red and processed meats, a staple of many obese patients, lead to colorectal cancer. Which is why we recommend a plant-based diet full of veggies and fruits and limiting the consumption of high calorie, sugary drinks and red meats. Daily exercise in addition to reducing weight gain is independently beneficial for cancer prevention.
  4. Sun exposure: It is well known that the harmful, invisible, ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun especially during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. can damage the skin cells and cause many types of skin cancers. Recent surveys indicate that, “Nearly one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S., about 70% of which result from repeated exposure of the skin to sunlight.” UV rays can also come from tanning beds and sunlamps. So, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher and wear other protection devices like hat, sunglasses, proper clothing, etc.
  5. Air pollution: There is ample evidence that, “atmospheric pollution is associated with increased risk for several types of cancers, including breast, liver, and pancreatic cancer.” Many cancer-causing substances have been identified in the environment like arsenic, asbestos, benzene, etc. Fortunately, a group called ‘People against Cancer’ has started a ‘Cancer Prevention Program’ that is focused on eliminating the poisons from the food, air, water and environment.’ Anyway, it’s up to each city to clean up their atmospheric pollution.
  6.  Pesticides: Many epidemiologic studies have shown positive associations between pesticides used in agricultural industry and various types of cancers, especially solid tumors like that of kidney, prostate etc. as well as leukemia. Pesticide residues on the grocery bought produce are dangerous to our health. Apparently, this is a major cause for cancer in India, according to many experts. Thorough cleaning of the vegetables and fruits and using organic products when available would help.

Remember, the key to cancer prevention is to aggressively improve all modifiable risk factors.

To be continued …

M.P. Ravindra Nathan, M.D., is a cardiologist and Emeritus Editor of AAPI Journal. For further reading, “Second Chance - A Sister’s Act of Love” by Dr. Nathan from Outskirts Press, can be found at www.amazon.com

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