Fact File: Cancer Risk

by Jadwiga O'Brien on May 2, 2011

Cancer occurs when normal cells in the body keep growing when they’re meant to stop. They become renegades. As they grow, they form a growth, known as a tumour. Tumours can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The cells of malignant tumours can spread to healthy tissue nearby as well as other parts of the body. The growth of tumours is started by substances known as “initiators” e.g. tobacco. The change can also be encouraged by things known as “promoters” e.g. diets high in fat.

How does it affect us?

According to the WHO, 40% of cancers could be prevented using simple measures such as changes in lifestyle and improved prevention and screening policies.

  • In 2006, cancer was responsible for over 8000 deaths in Ireland.
  • In 2008, cancer was responsible 156,723 in the UK.
  • In 2008, cancer was responsible for almost 8 million deaths worldwide.

If 40% of those deaths were preventable, that would mean 3,200,200 lives could have been saved through simple measures.

Two key lifestyle changes to reduce cancer risk are: eating a healthy diet (low in fat and rich in fruit and vegetables) and being physically active.

Eat Well

Research shows that high or daily consumption of fruit and vegetables can reduce risk of:

  • cancers of the digestive tract by up to 25 %(WHO)
  • colon cancer by up to 50% (WHO)
  • cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx by 50% (BJC)
  • oesophageal cancer by 40-50% (IARC)

Be Active

The WHO estimates physical inactivity to be the primary cause of about 21–25% of breast and colon cancer cases globally.

Being physically active also reduces the risk for colon cancer by 50%.

Other tips to reduce cancer risk include:

  • Give up smoking.
  • Don’t consume excessive alcohol.
  • Reduce your consumption of salt preserved foods (e.g. bacon).
  • Avoid scalding hot food/drink. Really hot food damages sensitive cells in your mouth and throat, and increases risk for certain cancers.
  • Be sun-safe. Avoid sun-beds and keep yourself and your family covered up in the sun by using appropriate clothing, hats and sun cream (SPF 15 at least).

Do you think that there is enough information available on how to avoid getting cancer? Do you feel that the health professions focus too much on treatment as opposed to prevention? We would love to see your thoughts on this sensitive issue – make a comment below.

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