Medical and Prescription Drug Plan (Pension, Hospitalization, and Benefit Plan of the Electrical Industry) (PHBP)
How Not to Get Cancer
We know how to prevent probably 90% of cancer! So why are so many people still dying of cancer?
We know how to prevent 95% of heart attacks, but they are still the leading cause of death. Our JIB CardioPrevention program is designed to correct that. We can make a big difference for your heart if you do your part.
Most of preventing cancer is not something doctors can do for you; it is what you have to do for yourself.
Being scared about cancer all the time makes no sense.
Taking the simple precautions below does make a lot of sense. People who follow this way of life live much better in every way besides being less likely to get cancer.
To eliminate 90% of cancer would require major changes in society and our economy. Politically it would be very hard to get to that point.
You don’t have to wait for politicians. You can act in your own life to substantially reduce your risk of cancer.
What are the big three causes of cancer?
Cancer is not something that happens to other people – it can happen to you – especially if you choose to live this way:
- Tobacco. The list of cancers from tobacco in all its forms (and marijuana) is so long and depressing that we won’t list them here, but tobacco causes or contributes to at least 30% of cancer and cancer deaths.
- Poor nutrition. The fat hidden away in your belly, around your intestines, heart and other organs, is called visceral fat. Visceral fat and poor food choices cause or contribute to 30% of cancers – especially colon, breast, prostate and ovary – the greatest causes of death from cancer in people who do not smoke (in smokers, lung cancer is number one).
- Alcohol. Alcohol probably causes or contributes to 30% of cancers. Even moderate drinking (defined as one daily serving of alcohol in women and two in men) causes 10% of cancer as determined in a recent study. Mouthwash containing alcohol can cause mouth cancer after long use.
These statistics come from a variety of sources, such as the CDC, World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society, and others.
There is overlap among all three causes. Indulging in two or more increases the risk even further.
Other causes include:
- Radiation (environmental and from diagnostic and treatment sources).
- Sunlight (skin cancer).
- Some viruses (HIV; HPV causing cervical cancer; Hepatitis C causing liver cancer; others).
- Reduced immune system from disease or treatment (the immune system helps rid your body of most cancer cells that try to get started; cancer occurs when a cancer cell evades the immune attack).
- Cancer genes and some genetic diseases.
- Some diseases increase the risk of cancer (autoimmune diseases, others).
- Some environmental pollutants (radon, asbestos, various plastics residues, nuclear power plants that blow up, other pollutants, and components of stuff we use everyday that we don’t even know yet).
- Some medications, though only very rarely (if cancer were a common side effect of a medicine, it would not be used).
Cancer occurs this way:
- A combination of things triggers genes that predispose you to get a cancer, or cause genes to mutate (change to become abnormal).
- This brews over a very long time before it becomes obvious to the person it is affecting.
- Most cancers will not occur without the triggers, listed above.
- You can not yet change your genes, but you can avoid the triggers!
- Changes in genes cause a cell to change until it eventually heads toward becoming a cancer cell. Many of the triggers listed here cause cancer by causing mutations in genes.
- Other factors might then spur further changes in the cells until it becomes a fully established cancer cell and continues on its own.
- It begins as a single cell that then splits in two. All its daughter cells keep doubling that way, hidden away until at some point the number of cancer cells become very high and then you know it is there.
- Most non-blood cancers start in one spot, but it is the spread (metastasis) that causes most of the problems. Find the cancer early and remove it before it spreads will stop most cancers cold (a few grow in multiple places).
- Cancer is not one disease but hundreds of different kinds, all with some things in common and all with many unique features and behaviors.
What can you do to protect yourself?
People who do the following are much, much, much less likely to get cancer:
- Learn to enjoy a healthy way of life, with healthy food choices and maintaining a weight that is free of excess visceral fat (see our booklets on healthy living).
- Do not use any tobacco or alcohol (and only alcohol-free mouthwash).
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid excessive sunlight (though you certainly need some) and have your skin checked yearly for suspicious moles; have moles that change checked right away.
- Sunlight on skin makes Vitamin D. Maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D with simple supplements (containing only Vitamin D3 and no other vitamins) as needed to keep blood Vitamin 25-OH around 35-40 ng/ml. Maintain healthy calcium intake as well.
- Make a reasonable effort to check your home and other areas you frequent for radon, asbestos, etc. Avoid plasticized food containers and other household products where concerns have been publicized.
- Follow recommended screening procedures (colonoscopy, mammograms pelvic exams and PAP smears, skin checks, others as indicated).
- Get vaccinated against HPV and Hepatitis B before becoming infected. Use reasonable precautions to avoid other viruses, such as HIV and Hep C.
- Undergo diagnostic tests that use radiation or x-rays only when absolutely necessary. There is mounting concern about significant overuse of tests involving radiation or x-ray.
- Those tests can be invaluable and should not be avoided when really needed. The amount of risk from any needed test is never great enough to deprive yourself of the very valuable information (sometimes lifesaving or operation sparing) the tests can provide when correctly used.
- Make a reasonable effort to discuss with your doctor whether what he or she is ordering is really, really worth it.
- A measure of radiation exposure is called the mSev.
- A single modern chest X-ray is 0.02 mSev (about what you are exposed to in an airplane trip across country).
- A mammogram is 0.4 mSev.
- A CT scan can be anywhere from 2 to 15 mSev, and nuclear cardiology tests are often as high as 15 mSev. Those dosages thus expose you to 100 to 750 times the radiation dose of a chest X-ray.
- Stress tests – a cardiac stress test that uses sonograms, called an echocardiogram (ECHO), which uses harmless sound waves only, is just as good as a nuclear stress test in almost every case, but the nuclear stress test can expose you as to much as 750 times the radiation of a chest x-ray.
- Note: We are all exposed to very small amounts of radiation from our natural environment. That risk is very small. The risk from man-made radiation increases with every dose and the total lifetime dose adds up and matters (it does not wear off).
More Medical Corner Stories
Medicines: A Guide to Using Them to Your Best Advantage (April 2012)
Statin Fear (February 2012)
Fearing the Mouse and Ignoring the Lion: Using Treatments Safely (January 2012)
How to Become a Non-Smoker—Again (December 2011)
Antibiotics and Colds (November 2011)
Beware a Brain Attack (October 2011)
To ER or not to ER (Connect to Health Newsletter, Fall 2011) (PDF)
How to be an "Activated Patient" (Connect to Health Newsletter, Summer 2011) (PDF)
Welcome Message from Dr. Makover (Connect to Health Newsletter, Summer 2011) (PDF)