By Esther Sears, FNP, AOCNP
In my work as an oncology nurse practitioner, I am often asked, “how did this happen?” and “how can I reduce my risk of recurrence?”. No one would ever choose to have cancer however statistics demonstrate that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will have cancer in their lifetime. Are we just potential victims waiting to see if we will be one of the unlucky ones, or is there something that we can do to ultimately impact our likelihood of getting this dreadful disease? While some things are out of our control, there are numerous choices we can make to reduce our risks of getting cancer.
Cancer Does Not Happen Over Night, an Opportunity to Intervene
As an oncology nurse practitioner, one of the joys of my job has been seeing people in recovery take control of the modifiable areas of their lives to decrease their risks of cancer recurrence. Only 5-10 percent of cancer is truly genetic in origin, meaning we get it simply because it is in our genetic make-up. That means that at around 90 percent of cancer comes from environmental influences, many of which we can control or at least influence! At any given time, most of us have had cancer cells lurking in our bodies. That sounds frightening, but in reality our immune system is designed to seek and destroy these nasty cells. Unfortunately, there are many things that can interfere with our immune system, allowing cancer cells to go undetected and grow into a detectable cancer. But, did you know that it takes about 10-30 years for those cancer cell to divide enough times to become a detectable cancer? By the time a person receives a diagnosis of cancer, it has been secretly growing undetected for up to 30 years! It is during this time that we have plenty of opportunity to intervene and make choices that will make our bodies an inhospitable place for cancer to grow. In other words, we can halt the growth of cancer before it is even detectable!
It Starts With Our Environment
The environment is everything around us, what we put in us, and how we interact with the world we live in. It is also where we have the best opportunity to reduce our risk of cancer and improve our overall health. By making a few simple choices, we can create an environment in our bodies in which cancer will find it hard to thrive and grow. Read more to discover the 7 choices you can make to reduce your cancer risk.
Seven Choices You Can Make to Create Reduce Your Risk of Cancer
Choose an Anti-Cancer Diet
Food is our most intimate interaction with the outside world and by far one of the most critical areas to focus on. Numerous studies have demonstrated that eating a healthy diet can lower our risk for cancer. But what constitutes a healthy diet? All scientifically studied healthy diets, whether Vegetarian, Paleo, Mediterranean, Vegan and many others have one thing in common. They all advise plant foods as the primary dietary source! When you look at your plate, what do you see? If you don’t see a lot of different colors, you may not be getting enough fruit and vegetables in your diet. Eat a rainbow of color and you will be well on your way to an anticancer body. Also, whenever possible, stick with organic to eliminate toxins that can also be carcinogenic.
Choose to Move
Exercise has been proven to be one of, if not THE most important way to decrease your risk of cancer. The problem is that most people either don’t enjoy “working out” or they just don’t have time. If you fit into one of these categories, maybe it is time to rethink what constitutes “exercise”. When was the last time you jumped rope, put on some skates or rode a bike? Do you like to dance? Throw a frisbee? Do you have a dog that would love a regular walk or romp in the park? Exercise does not have to be a chore. It comes down to finding something you like and making it a priority. Get creative. Park further away from work and shopping. Get a group together, get a tracker, get your partner to join you! It doesn’t matter what you do, just get moving!
Choose to Manage Your Stress
Stress is actually a carcinogen, meaning it can promote the growth of cancer! It does this by decreasing your body’s immune response and by increasing the growth of cancer cells. Norepinepherine and epinepherine are neurotransmitters released when the body is stressed. Research has demonstrated that these neurotransmitters are potent stimulators of vascularization of tumor cells. This means they can help the cancer cells produce their own blood vessels through which they are able get nutrients to support their growth. Stress is an uncomfortable feeling experienced when demands exceed resources, whether real or perceived. It can be acute or chronic. The art of managing stress is often one that needs to be learned. Explore yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or massage. Try removing yourself briefly from stressful situations at work, take a walk, talk to someone, look out the window and actually SEE what is out there. Is the sky blue? The wind blowing? Are the clouds puffy and white or ominous? The idea is to take time to actually remove yourself from your current state of stress and become aware of something outside of your current circumstances. Reflect on what your mind and body need to deal with your life stressors and act on it.
Choose to Make Every Effort to Get Quality Sleep
Quality sleep in crucial to good health in general, but lack of quality sleep can also increase your risk for cancer. Scientists found that women who had disrupted sleep patterns had a 30% increased risk of breast cancer. Causes of poor sleep can include hormone dysregulation, hypoglycemia, insufficient melatonin, poor sleep hygiene and anxiety. These issues can all be addressed in our clinic.
Choose to Know Your Vitamin D Level
Vitamin D is important for mental, immune, and bone health but it has also been the subject of multiple studies which suggest that robust Vitamin D levels are associated with decreased risk of colon and breast cancers. Most of our vitamin D comes from sun exposure but areas in the northern latitude see less sun, making supplementation necessary for most people in order to achieve adequate levels. The majority of the patients I see in oncology test low on Vitamin D and require supplementation.
Choose to Maintain a Healthy Weight
Numerous studies have linked obesity and over-weight with several types of cancers including breast, endometrial, gallbladder, esophageal, gastric, liver, kidney, and multiple myeloma. Obesity causes an increase in inflammation and chemicals which can directly encourage cancer cell survival, production, and progression. Obesity can also cause hormonal changes that increase risk of breast and prostate cancers.
Choose a Healthy Lifestyle
Certain behaviors can put you at higher risk for certain cancers. Unprotected sex can expose you to HSV which increases the risk of cervical, anal and laryngeal cancers. The fact that smoking causes lung cancer is well known. Charred foods, infrequent bowel movements and inadequate fiber in the diet can increase risk of colon cancer. Excess alcohol increases the risk of pancreatic and colon cancers.
As you can see, you don’t have to sit and wait and hope that you are not a victim of cancer. I want to encourage you to choose an anti-cancer lifestyle now to reduce your risk. The choice is yours to make and we are here to help!