Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States.
Cancer is a group of diseases that are characterized by cells that reproduce spontaneously and aren’t inhibited by the boundaries of tissues and organs. Therefore, they can invade tissues and organs far away from those where they originally formed. Most forms of cancer result in one or more tumors. Tumors are newly formed masses of cells that are immature and have no physiologic function.
There are 3 primary steps of cancer development:
- Initiation: occurs when a cell’s DNA is mutated causing permanent changes to the cell
- Promotion: the genetically altered cell is stimulated to repeatedly divide. The DNA is locked into each new cell’s genetic instructions and the enzymes can’t detect these alterations in the DNA, so the cells continue to divide
- Progression: cancerous cells grow out of control and invade surrounding tissues. These cells spread to other sites of the body and if they continue to grow, they develop into tumors
Heredity can play a role in the development of cancer, but does not guarantee that you will get it. This just means that you are at an increased risk and should take all preventive actions, because many are modifiable.
The American Cancer Society describes how five modifiable factors can have a great impact on cancer risk:
- Using tobacco increases the risk for cancers of the lung, larynx, mouth and esophagus as well as cause heart disease, stroke and emphysema.
- Consumption of substances like alcohol, dietary fat and compounds found in cured meats can increase the risk of cancer. Antioxidants, fiber and phytochemicals are all nutritional factors that can protect you against cancer. Diets high in saturated fats and low in fruits and vegetables increase the risk of the esophagus, colon, breast and prostate. So it’s important to increase your intake of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and decrease the amount of red meat and fatty meats while maintaining a healthy weight to prevent cancer.
- Infectious agents are about 18% of cancers worldwide. For example Helicobacter pylori is linked to ulcers as well as stomach cancer and Human papillomavirus is linked to cervical cancer which is caused by a sexually transmitted virus.
- Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US and is about half of all cancers diagnosed each year. Most are linked to exposure of UV rays from the sun or indoor tanning beds. UV rays damage the DNA of immature skin cells and reproduce uncontrollably. Exposure to tanning beds before age 35 increases by 75% your risk of developing skin cancer. Limiting exposure to the sun for 20 minutes between 10 AM and 4 PM can reduce the risk of skin cancer while getting the adequate amount of vitamin D.
- A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of colon cancer and may increase the risk of other cancers. So get moving!
Antioxidants are important for enhancing the immune system assisting in the removal of cancerous cells from the body, inhibiting the growth of cancer cells and tumors, and preventing the oxidative damage to the cell’s DNA. Eating whole foods that are high in antioxidants such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have been shown to lower your cancer risk.
Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.