A cancer diagnosis is often accompanied by an acute sense of powerlessness. Many patients report feeling they have no sense of control over their body, their treatment, or their lives. But the first thing to do when diagnosed with cancer is to learn about your disease, understand how lifestyle is a contributing factor to your health, and take back control.
Cancer occurs when cells mutate, meaning they grow abnormally, and spread. A healthy cell knows to grow, divide, and then stop growing. Eventually, those healthy cells will die off. But cancer cells are different. Diseased cells continue growing and dividing and do not die on their own. These extra cells join together to form a mass of tissue, or tumor. But not all cancers are tumorous (leukemia, for example, doesn’t evidence in tissue masses). Your body is home to over 30 trillion cells, and cancer starts when just one of those cells begins that uncontrolled, abnormal growth.
Why Does This Happen?
The National Cancer Institute reports that roughly 38% of people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life. And that number is rising. We know lifestyle can be a leading contributor to a person’s chance of growing cancerous tissue. Here are three important factors to get you started in the fight for your health.
Drinking coffee can have many health benefits. It can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver disease, to name a few. But its relationship to certain cancers has many experts concerned.
In March 2018, a California Superior Court judge ruled that large coffee chains must provide a cancer warning on their cups. Coffee contains the chemical acrylamide, which has been identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a “probable carcinogen.” Acrylamide, which is also found in cigarettes, makes damaging changes in the DNA, and studies have found it to be genotoxic in animals.
The issue with coffee, some researches say, is quantity. Because it carries certain health benefits (a broad range of antioxidants, for example), most people are safe to consume it in small amounts. But given acrylamide’s dangerous effects on DNA, cancer patients might be wise to give up the morning cup.
The relationship between alcohol and cancer is even stronger. The US Department of Health and Human Services identifies alcohol as a definitive carcinogen. The more a person drinks, the higher their risk of developing certain types of cancer. These include head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.Consuming ethanol and acetaldehyde (both found in alcoholic beverages) damages DNA and proteins within the body. Alcohol also increases reactive oxygen species, which essentially means DNA, proteins, and fats are all harmed through oxidation. Finally, alcohol elevates estrogen in the blood, which is associated with breast cancer.
Cutting out alcohol is a key lifestyle change when it comes to avoiding or conquering cancer.
Obesity is a clear precursor to cancer. The American Cancer Society found that being either overweight or obese accounts for 8% of all cancer in the US and 7% of cancer deaths. Surplus body weight most significantly increases the risk of developing the following cancers:
- Women who are obese or overweight are two to four times more likely to develop this cancer in the lining of the uterus
- Esophageal Adenocarcinoma
- Surplus weight makes individuals twice as likely to develop cancer of the throat, and being severely obese bumps the risk of up four fold.
- Gastric Cardia Cancer
- This cancer, occurring in the upper regions of the stomach, is four times more common in the obese
- Liver Cancer
- Here, obese men are particularly at risk, though generally any obese individual is twice as likely to develop this cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Being either overweight or obese doubles your odds of experiencing this cancer. This likely has to do with the high blood pressure (a clear risk for kidney cancer) associated with obesity
- Multiple Myeloma
- Here, the risk is relatively lower. Those with a too-high BMI are 10 – 20% more at-risk
- This brain tumor occurs 50% more often in obese individuals and 20% more often in overweight people
- Pancreatic Cancer
- The chances of growing cancer here are 150% more likely for the overweight or obese
- A high BMI brings a 30% increased risk for this cancer
- Gallbladder Cancer
- Being overweight makes an individual 20% more at-risk and being obese carries a 60% risk
- Breast Cancer
- Weight is especially significant for postmenopausal women. For this group, obesity means an increased risk of 20-40%.
- Thyroid Cancer
- When a BMI shows a 5-unit increase, an individual carries a 10% increase in risk
What About the Family Tree?
Some cancers occur because of heredity, but inherited genetic mutations typically account for only about 5-10% of cancers. This means the other roughly 90% occur because of lifestyle or environmental factors (and about 30-35% of those cancers happen because of dietary choices). Genetic testing can determine your risk for certain types of cancer.
You ARE In Control
Cancer happens when the body’s cell growth revolts and spirals out of control. But that doesn’t mean you are a passive bystander as cancer takes over. Avoiding harmful carcinogens and maintaining a healthy body weight are key strategies to reclaiming your health.