Eating, Exercise And Cancer
In 2020, more than 1.8 million people in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with cancer, but did you know that half of all cancers are preventable? Lifestyle changes now can help decrease the risk of cancer and improve your overall health.
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating healthy can help reduce your risk of getting cancer.
It's all about living a healthy lifestyle in general. Just as with other major diseases, your lifestyle and health play a pivotal role in the likelihood of getting certain ailments. Some things inhibit the ability of a healthy diet like the addition of cancer-causing habits like smoking.
A healthy lifestyle isn't just about the foods that you eat, but how your diet works with the other parts of your life like exercise and habits to produce optimal results.
The Power Of Prevention
Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer. In addition to the physical problems and emotional distress caused by cancer, the high costs of cancer care are also a burden to patients, their families, and to the public.
"We do have a great opportunity to nip it in the bud so that patients don't need expensive treatments," said Peter Garrett, MD, medical director of cancer services at Franciscan Health Cancer Center Indianapolis.
Environmental exposure, past behavior and genetics cannot be erased, however, according to experts, it's never too later to change your habits for the better to reduce your cancer risk.
Nutrition And Cancer
The number one goal for cancer patients is to maintain a healthy weight, and eating well is a big part of that, said Abby Emerick, a clinical dietitian and board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition at Franciscan Health Indianapolis.
"A more plant-based diet - lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains - those are great ways to incorporate phytochemical antioxidants to help lower inflammation in the body and improve your immune system," she said.
Fruits and vegetables have abundant antioxidants and phytochemicals which help fight off infections, pathogens and improve our digestive health. A healthy diet includes five or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day, half of the grains from whole grain and limit consumption of sugar and red meats especially those that are processed and high in fat. Limit sugary foods and beverages as well as processed packaged foods. While it's not the sugar that causes cancer, it is the excess sugar that is stored as fat and increases weight that increases the risk of cancer.
The American Society for Nutrition has recommendations for nutrition for cancer prevention that include:
- Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit consumption of processed meats and red meats.
- Eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
- Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.
- If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit the amount you drink.
Maintain A Healthy Weight
A healthy weight, or a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9, keeps excess fat off of your body, especially around the abdomen. Yu-Han Huang, a Franciscan Health registered dietician in Indianapolis explains that “extra adipose fats act like a hormone in your body, changing your metabolic status. The resulting low-grade inflammation can increase free-radical oxidation throughout your body."
Dr. Garrett points out that Indiana has one of the highest obesity rates in the country.
"The number one issue is what we eat," he said. "We're working with our dietitians directly from a prevention standpoint to educate people on what they're eating."
Exercise And Cancer
When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, exercise goes hand in hand with diet. Losing weight can lower the risk of various types of cancer, including breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney cancers.
According to the National Cancer Institute, studies show a strong link between physical activity and a lower risk of colorectal cancer, postmenopausal cancer and endometrial cancer.
"I tell my patients, I don't care what you do exercise-wise. Some people like to run, some people like to swim, some people like to go to a club. You don't need to be running a marathon, but you do need to have regular exercise of some type, three times a week," said Dr. Garrett.
Any amount of physical activity is a positive step, but for substantial health benefits, strive for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. You can also do a combination of both.
This physical activity will help maintain metabolism and reduce excess fat, thus reducing the risk of inflammation. Another result is the regulation of insulin levels, helping to keep blood sugar stable.
"I can tell my patients who are exercising. They just are healthier generally, they look better and they are having a better life," said Dr. Garrett.
Tobacco Use And Cancer
Krishnan Srinivasan, MD, radiation oncologist at Franciscan Health Olympia Fields Comprehensive Cancer Institute, says tobacco use is associated with 10 to 15 types of cancers. “That’s not even talking about the impact on the heart, stroke risk and blood clots,” he said. For a smoker, the best time to quit is now.
Beth Segal, RN, manager of the Franciscan Healthy Living Center in Lafayette, says the health benefits of stopping smoking begin immediately after putting out that last cigarette.
"Within 20 minutes your heart rate drops, and within a few months, the risk of heart attack begins to drop," she said. "At a year, it's a reduced risk for heart disease. Then at the 10-year point, the risk of dying from lung cancer is about half of that of a person who smokes."
Research shows quitting tobacco is one of the hardest things to do. With that in mind, Segal says Franciscan Health's Aspire program takes a holistic approach to quitting, using nicotine replacement in conjunction with behavioral support.
People usually have multiple quit attempts before they have success. "It's not a failure. Each attempt is a learning experience," Segal said.
Alcohol And Drug Use
While previous research has shown that modest amounts of alcohol can have benefits for heart health, the evidence is clear when it comes to cancer. Alcohol in any form is a carcinogen.
"Alcohol consumption is linked to a variety of cancers," Emerick said. "The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends avoiding it in any form. If you do drink, it's no more than one drink for women and two drinks for men per day."
Dr. Srinivasan says alcohol use is linked to liver, stomach and esophageal cancers, and to an increased breast cancer risk for women. Part of the problem with alcohol is that it often accompanies other bad habits.
"If you combine alcohol and smoking, everything increases geometrically," he said. Studies have shown a link between marijuana use in adolescence and an increased risk for an aggressive form of testicular cancer. Illicit drugs are often mixed with cancer-causing additives. Misuse of anabolic steroids by athletes can increase prostate cancer risk in men and cervical and endometrial cancer in women, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Sun Exposure And Cancer
Dr. Garrett says he is seeing more cases of skin cancer and melanoma, yet these cancers are among the most preventable.
"Those cancers can be prevented by the use of sunscreen (with an SPF of at least 30), by staying out of the sun at critical times, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and staying in the shade and using hats," he said.
Dr. Srinivasan points out tanning booths pose the same dangers.
"There's no doubt about the increased risk for skin cancer," he said.
Because skin cancer is very curable when caught early on, people prone to moles, or with a family history of skin cancer should pay close attention to any changes and seek attention as soon as possible, Dr. Srinivasan said.
Radon Exposure And Cancer
Dr. Garrett points out another environmental risk in radon, a radioactive gas that seeps up through the ground and increases the risk of lung cancer. Based on geography and soil testing, Indiana and Illinois have higher levels of radon than many other states. Radon test kits can be found at home improvement stores or online.
"That's an investment in safety for you and your family," Dr Garrett said.
More Cancer Prevention
An HPV vaccination can prevent a cancer 30 or 40 years later. Yet in Indiana, about 45 percent of adolescent girls and just 24 percent of adolescent boys are vaccinated, Dr. Garrett said.
HPV, human papilloma virus, is linked to cervical cancers and many others, including tongue, tonsil and genitalia.
"It's totally preventable," he said. "The vaccine is a good investment, because it's cheaper to prevent a cancer than to treat it."
"We have so much information and data now showing that we can live significantly longer by doing a better job of limiting risks," Dr. Srinivasan said.
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