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Despite the billions spent racing for the cure, the overall mortality rate from cancer has not changed in six decades. Though we have launched an attack that has left tobacco retreating, we expect a shortage of oncologists in 2020 to care for the one in two men and one-third of women expected to develop cancer in their lifetimes. In the educated, health-conscious county of Marin, California, one in four women is destined to suffer from breast cancer.
Why? Keep in mind that 80–95% of cancers have an environmental component and may be preventable through awareness and action. Considering the vast number of chemicals we have introduced into our environment in the past 60 years, it is tempting to feel like proverbial “sitting ducks” awaiting massacre by carcinogens. But some of the greatest threats have been there all along, and are easy to eliminate, or at least control.
Test Your Home for Radon
Following smoking, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S, and it is completely avoidable. Spend $20 to purchase a radon detection kit, and have your home vented if needed. Radon has been found in all regions, new and old construction alike.
Enjoy the Sun Safely
Nearly 50% of Americans are expected to develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. Cover up, use hats and umbrellas, and avoid direct sunlight between 11am-3pm. Pack the sunscreen, but keep in mind that sunscreen has not been shown conclusively to prevent skin cancer.
On the other side of the equation, it is estimated that 24,000 people die from cancer in the U.S. each year from lack of sun exposure (more than twice the number that die from skin cancer). A recent study showed that those individuals who got 2000 IU’s of vitamin D daily had half the risk of breast cancer and only one-third the risk of colon cancer; 10-15 minutes in the sun with 40% of the body exposed can result in the absorption of 2000-5000 IU’s.
Practice Safe Sex
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of cervical cancer and is believed to be responsible for 25% of oral cancers in the U.S. as well. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer in the U.S. Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide. All of these can be transmitted sexually. Fortunately, safe sex in a monogamous relationship has been linked with a lower risk of cancer in both men and women!
Open Your Windows
The Environmental Protection Agency has ranked indoor air quality 4th in environmental causes of cancer. Open windows and use good ventilation. Avoid wood burning stoves and fireplaces. Purchase a few house plants. NASA has determined that common houseplants can absorb common household carcinogens like formaldehyde.
Be Cautious with Chemicals
Only 2% of chemicals used in commerce have been tested for carcinogenicity. Use gloves, wear masks, read labels, and read Material Data Safety Sheets on chemicals you are exposed to at work. At home, go through your closets and toss conventional cleaning products, selecting environmentally friendly alternatives. The book Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time, provides a list of the most common household carcinogens, and alternatives that are available.
Eating 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day halves your risk of developing cancer. While “super foods” have been studied for their role in cancer prevention, our number one recommendation is to eat a wide variety of foods. This increases the chance you will get the nutrients you need to avoid cancer, while minimizing exposure to possible carcinogens. This can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is the second leading preventable cause of cancer, rapidly on its way to win the gold medal, as tobacco use declines and obesity soars.
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Some medications--even a few which are commonly prescribed for minor infections--are listed on California’s Proposition 65 as cancer causing agents in humans. Although most X-ray procedures are clearly needed, ask about alternatives. Women who are genetically predisposed to breast cancer have a 4-fold increased incidence of developing cancer if they are exposed to chest X-rays prior to age 20. Though total body CT scans in individuals without symptoms are advertised for “prevention,” they have not been shown to increase survival by picking up disease at an earlier stage. They do, however, expose you to radiation--equal to the amount you would have received 2.4 km from the center of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast.
Make sure you are up to date on preventive health care visits. There has been controversy over the benefits of mammograms and prostate screenings, but screening Pap smears and colonoscopies have clearly saved lives. Also, keep a detailed family history and share this with your health-care provider, so he or she can recommend further screening if needed.
Children who are exposed to home and garden pesticides are up to seven times more likely to develop leukemia. Dogs that live in homes where chemical weed killers are used are three times more likely to develop lymphomas. Hand-pull weeds or use alternative landscaping. Go organic, and minimize your exposure to all pesticides.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Red wine has blanketed the news for its virtues, but a word of caution is deserved. Alcohol intake is currently responsible for 3.6% of cancer deaths in the U.S. Men should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks per day, and women, one. Resveratrol, the cancer-fighting phytochemical found in red wine, can be found in regular grape juice.
Don’t Smoke! (Or Breathe Second-Hand Smoke)
As you know, smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and a major health risk.
Many theories have been proposed in an attempt to explain the high incidence of breast cancer in Northern California. While the jury is deliberating, we can focus on things that do make a difference. Follow the principles above. In addition, turn out the lights. Blind women have a very low risk of breast cancer, whereas those who work night shifts have high rates. Consider alternatives to birth control pills and traditional hormone replacement therapy. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. Breastfeed your children. Drink eight glasses of water per day. Add seaweed (kelp) to your recipes. And, continue the active lifestyle practices that make us question why California does not have a lower, rather than elevated, risk of breast cancer.
Lynne Eldridge, M.D. and David Borgeson, MS, MPT are the authors of Avoid Cancer Now, available at your local bookstore or visit their website at www.avoidcancernow.com.
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