These days, it’s hard to find someone whose life has not been affected by cancer. From our elderly friends and relatives, to young mothers and even toddlers and children, it seems like cancer can strike anyone of any age and on any part of the body.
There are more than 100 different types of cancers. The more common ones are breast cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer. The rarer ones are bile duct cancer, eye cancer and heart cancer.
With each type of cancer having its own characteristics, recommended treatment and identified risk factors (if any) can all seem very confusing. Added to that are the ever changing medical recommendations and sometimes conflicting research findings. All these can leave us feeling helpless in the face of cancer’s seemingly random selection of victims. That said, in the last half of the century, research has given us a lot of information about cancer and what we can do to protect ourselves against it.
Controllable Lifestyle Factors
The reality is that although some cancers are hereditary and others have no known cause, a third of cancers are considered preventable. That’s quite a high proportion, which is good news for all of us. Cancer UK has come up with controllable lifestyle factors and their associated cancer risks.
In terms of cancer risks in general, tobacco use is the highest risk factor, followed by being overweight, consuming a diet low in fruit and vegetables, and alcohol use. Other controllable risk factors are occupational exposure to carcinogens; use of sunlight and sunbeds; exposure to cancer-linked infections such as HIV and Hepatitis B or C, as well as the frequent consumption of highly processed food.
Taking into account the above factors and addressing them – cutting out what is bad for you and consuming more of what is needed – can reduce your risk of cancer.
Can a Stressful Lifestyle Give You Cancer?
We’ve all heard that stress is not good for us, as it’s been linked to cardiac disease, but what about links between stress and cancer? For a long time scientists found no clear evidence linking stress to cancer, despite the beliefs of people who advocate more holistic approaches to health. More recently, however, research has suggested that stress may make it easier for cancer to grow. Now, with many people facing stress on a regular basis, thanks to fast-paced jobs, increasing responsibilities and busy modern lifestyles, this brings about the question: can our stressful lifestyles give us cancer?
Here, a distinction must be made between acute stress, the beneficial flight-or-fight response that humans have evolved to help them cope with sudden threats, and chronic stress, which is a long-term dangerous type of stress, caused by continuous physical, psychological or socio-economic problems. Research on mice with breast cancer showed that cancer cells spread six times faster through the bodies of stressed mice than unstressed mice. While scientists may take a while to work out how these findings apply to humans, the research supports the argument that a more relaxed lifestyle is better for our health.
Ultimately, living a picture-perfect healthy lifestyle does not guarantee that you will never get cancer, but your lifestyle choices can affect your cancer risk significantly. And you don’t have to do this alone. Your doctor can advise on small and gradual changes you can make, whether it is adding more fibre to your diet, or getting more exercise. Professional help can also provide support through counselling or medication to quit smoking or reduce alcohol consumption. While prevention is the best approach, regular screening is also important, for example, doing blood tests, scans or scopes in general, or self breast examinations, pap smears and mammograms for women.
So while cancer can strike anyone at any time, we can all do something to reduce or eliminate the controllable lifestyle risks. While we wait and hope for science to discover a cure, our best bet is to be informed, see the doctor regularly, and make healthier lifestyle choices.