Yes, You Can Prevent Cancer

Nothing is scarier than being told you have cancer. In some ways, it’s even scarier than being told you have heart disease. All of us know family and friends, and maybe ourselves, who have had cancer or who may be on a treatment journey for a hopeful cure.

Even though we are developing better treatments and cures with better survival rates, cancer is still the second leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease. Prevention is something to pay attention to.

The development of cancer can be caused by factors we have no control over, such as age or genetic predisposition, and are not necessarily influenced by lifestyle. However, many cancers are linked to how much we weigh, what we eat, and how much exercise we get. We do have control over those lifestyle choices. Balanced nutrition contributes an adequate supply of nutrients to cells at the molecular level keeping cells intact and functioning. At the cellular-molecular level, detrimental changes can begin such as the accumulation of DNA damage that open the door to cancer. Weight and exercise are part of the health equation.

The World Health Organization estimates 30 to 50% of cancer cases are preventable by people being at a healthy weight, eating healthy food, not smoking, and being physically active. Occupational carcinogens and environmental toxins can contribute to the development of cancer. Those risks should be identified and managed, but achieving and maintaining good health is key.

The leading causes of cancer, including lung, colon, breast, or prostate, are preventable. Other preventable cancers include endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, liver, ovary, pancreatic, and esophageal cancers. Of course, you can be a picture of good health and still develop cancer.

2020 American Cancer Society Guideline on Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life. Avoid weight gain during adulthood.
  • Be physically active.
    • Adults should engage in 150-300 min. of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. Achieving the upper goal of 300 minutes is optimal.
    • Children and adolescents should engage in at least one hour of moderate or vigorous-intense activity each day.
    • Limit sedentary behavior, such as sitting, lying down, and watching television, and other forms of screen-based entertainment.
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern at all ages.
    • Eat foods high in nutrition in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
    • Include a variety of vegetables: dark green, red, and orange, fiber-rich legumes (beans and lentils).
    • Eat a variety of colorful fruits.
    • Eat whole grains foods to increase fiber.
    • A healthy eating pattern limits or does not include red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grain products.
  • It is best not to drink alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit consumption to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.

Being healthy is a lifelong continuum. Have a conversation about cancer prevention with your family. Parents need to pay attention to eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting physical activity. Kids model their parents. Healthy habits establish themselves early on. While that’s the best place to start, anytime is the right time.

Ask yourself:

  • What is your vision for your health and that of your family?
  • Why is your health and your family’s health worth the effort?
  • What steps can you take to achieve the healthiest you can be?

After you consider what you want to do, make a plan with details. Practicing your plan just might include preventing other serious health conditions.

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.