10 Tips to Prevent Cancer

It’s like Voldemort. It strikes such fear into people’s hearts, some of us are afraid to even speak the word, for fear of invoking the name…but let’s just say it: Cancer.

Everybody is afraid of cancer.

It’s the elephant in the room for many, many of my patient visits. Occasionally people will vocalize their fear, but often it’s lurking there, unsaid. 

One of the scary things about cancer is the feeling that it could strike us down, randomly, like winning some horrible lottery. And that makes us feel like we’re out of control. 

Fact is, there are lots of things we can do to stay healthy. To counteract feelings of helplessness, here are my top tips on how to prevent cancer:

1.Eat a Mediterranean diet.

This diet, rich in fruit & veggies, fish, whole grains, nuts and olive oil has been repeatedly linked with lower rates of cancer. The Mediterranean diet is my personal fave, and it’s not just about cancer prevention…there are other health reasons to adopt this way of eating (and lifestyle), like heart disease prevention. And then there’s the pleasure factor, something the Mediterranean diet has in spades. 

2.Quit smoking.

Do I really need to go into detail on why this one is a good idea? Of course, easier said than done, I know. Quitting smoking is huge-ola. But help is out there. See your friendly doctor as a starting point! If you’re in BC, check out QuitNow. Or check out Health Canada’s advice. Also, the American Cancer Society has some ideas.

3.Wear sunblock.

Preventing skin cancer is definitely within your control. Wear the highest SPF you can get your hands on. Also? Sport a hat, slide on those sunglasses. Another benefit of sunblock: wrinkle prevention. Leathery skin is so 1986. A caveat: if, like me, you wear sunblock like a religion…think about your vitamin D level–you could be deficient (which is easily fixed, though–see below).  

4.Drink green tea.

Green tea is chock full of antioxidants. Those are the compounds that fight free radicals and reduce inflammation–underlying mechanisms that cause cancer. Early research on green tea is showing some promise in terms of cancer prevention, but some study results have been mixed. Still, green tea is safe, and if you find a blend you like, it’s a pleasurable ritual. Plus there are other health benefits to tea. While the scientists are busy sorting out the full story, I say enjoy a cup or two of green tea a day.

5.Eat superfoods.

If you’ve adopted a Mediterranean diet, you’ll already be getting many of these superfoods shown to reduce cancer risk, but as extra weapons in your arsenal, try adding these yummies to your diet: blueberries, broccoli, beans, apples, garlic, grapes, tomatoes, and…wait for it: dark chocolate. Oh yes, people, I said chocolate.

6.Aim for a healthy weight.

There is a clear connection between excess body fat and cancer risk. Why? Fat cells don’t just sit there, merely thwarting your desire to squeeze into last year’s jeans. They produce estrogen. And estrogen promotes cell growth. They also secrete various chemicals and proteins that trigger inflammation and insulin resistance. Which also encourages cell growth. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to prevent cancer. But…easier said than done. Need assistance? Start with portion control. Belly fat your issue? Here’s help in that department.

7.Take an Aspirin and call me in the morning.

A fascinating thing was discovered recently–a daily aspirin seems to reduce the risk of some big-time cancers: colon, lung, prostate, and more. And in this study, it reduced them by a lot. Why might this be? Aspirin is a potent anti-inflammatory, and it may also cause DNA-damaged cells to die. But aspirin is not for everyone–it can cause stomach lining irritation and bleeding. If you’re considering this route, talk to your doctor first. 

8.Exercise.

Beyond keeping our weight under control, physical activity itself helps prevent cancer. It regulates hormone levels, boosts our immune systems, helps the digestive tract function smoothly…and we call that winning. Of course, shoe-horning exercise in to our busy lives is no small challenge. Here’s how to do it.

9.Take Vitamin D.

Studies have recently shown a higher cancer risk when vitamin D levels are low. Many of us are walking around deficient in vitamin D with no idea (ahem, count me as one of those). Consider a blood test to check your level, consider a little more sunshine in your life (but not too much!), consider supplements.

10.Get regular checkups & screening.

Paps, mammograms, colonoscopies…we’ve got all kinds of tools now to help us detect cancer early. Recommendations for screening will vary based on age and individual risk factors, so see your doc about this.

There you go, you’re on your way to a healthier future. Nothing to fear. Now…say it with me: Voldemort.

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10 Comments on “10 Tips to Prevent Cancer

  1. There’s one thing you’re missing Dr. Kim, and it’s this – see a Doctor who LISTENS. I’m a guy who generally lives pretty well; I exercise regularly, eat well, avoid junk food and so on. In early 2005 I started having problems – they were subtle at first, like the numb spot on the inside of my thigh and increased fatigue. Over the course of the year, things started to worsen and a few months later I went to see my family doc for the first time. I complained of increased fatigue, night sweats, the numb spot, discomfort when sitting, and an occasional shooting pain in my right leg. Nothing wrong with you, he proclaimed after performing a very cursory exam. You’re working out too hard. Get a message and some physio.

    So that’s what I did. Not surprisingly, things did not improve, and when I asked my doc a few months later when I visited again about a CatScan, he scoffed – “You’re young. CatScans are expensive. You don’t need one.”

    I went home. I was on the verge of booking a CatScan in Buffalo and paying for it myself, but I was SO busy with work, it fell by the wayside and I just upped my pain killers (big mistake). The next time I saw my family doc, he finally relented and booked me in with a sports medicine expert, claiming my pain was result of a pinched nerve or some related injury as a result of weight lifting.

    I never made it to the sports doc. In early December 2005 the pain was so bad, I knew something major was wrong. So I went to emergency. The on-call emerg doc was great – he took one look at me and sent me for an abdominal ultrasound and made me wait while he got the results. He took one look at those and booked me for an emergency CatScan. After the Catscan I was met by a very somber doc who told me what I already suspected; I definitely had cancer, probably lymphoma. That diagnosis was revised several times in regards to the type of cancer and to be quite honest I don’t remember a heck of a lot other than the fact that the prognosis was very grim and I had “maybe three months” (I was now taking a lot of morphine for pain).

    Obviously, it turned out the intial prognosis was incorrent, and I had something that could be treated, which is why I happen to have the good fortune to be typing this out today,

    Bottom line – I would have had to undergo the chemotherapy and surgery regardless. But I could have done it, starting from a period of relative strength as opposed to being half dead… if my doctor would have listened to me. I am angry at myself too, as I should have either insisted I had a CATSCAN, or gone and paid for one in the states, But I am not a doctor, and deferred to mine. A big – almost deadly mistake – as it turned out in this case.

    So yes… you can do all the right things, but if that doesnt work, you still need someone in your corner.

    Thanks for letting me rant, Dr, Kim. My new family doc, BTW, is fantastic! 😉

    • Oh my goodness, Paul, that is a terrible story. How horrendous for you, that you had to go through all that. But I’m so glad to hear that you’re ok and that everything worked out–you’re all clear and healthy now, right? It’s such a horrifying shock when your health is taken away from you like that. It must have been so frustrating that it took so long for them to figure out what was going on.

      If it’s any comfort (and it probably isn’t), I suspect your doctor has been beating himself up over missing your diagnosis. That’s every doctor’s nightmare. I know it’s mine.

      But I’m so happy that you had some excellent physicians along the way, in ER etc, and that you’re happy with your new GP!

      I wish you the best of health.

      • Dr Kim,

        I am healthy – thank you for asking. When I saw my oncologist last November, he said he has “no concerns” and only wants to see me once a year to keep tabs on me – it’s no longer necessary to have regular CatScans and so on.

        Regarding my old GP: I can’t say I’m angry, but I guess you could say I’m still a bit “miffed” – one thing you learn when you have cancer is that life is really short, and there’s no point in sweating the “small” stuff. Everyone knows the saying “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything”, but it’s not until you’re really sick do you realize how true this really is.

        In my case too, everything worked out – I AM healthy. But for many, the story doesn’t turn out the same way. Had my initial diagnosis been correct, and I really did have 3 months to live, I would have preferred to spend the last 8 relatively pleasant months of my life (had I been diagnosed in the spring of ’05 as opposed to late December of the same year) doing something other than working.

        And, my doc did get 3 “kicks at the can.” And I’m not a hypochondriac, I’m educated, and I don’t show up at the doctor’s office everytime I have a sniffle. That probably annoyed me most of all – he knows I’m only there because something is definitely wrong.

        And he dismissed me out of hand, each time.

        Yes, I get it. A diagnosis can be missed. It’s entirely understandable. You guys are overworked and under huge pressure to get more done with fewer resources. But those same working conditions apply to my new GP, who is fantastic. She listens, asks for my opnion, and is entirely conscientious. If she missed a diagnosis, it would not be because she sent me home with a prescription for aspirins when I had some strange symptoms not readily identified.

        Accordingly, I would never blame her for doing her best.

        At the end of the day though, there are many positive elements to the story; the chemo/cancer nurses, oncologists, surgeons and specialists of all shapes and sizes that I dealt with after my diagnosis were amazing (the Cancer Center of South Eastern Ontario rocks!). Even when I was a burden (in a wheelchair) I never ever felt like one. Every single one of them treated me with caring and compassion each and every single day. The people I met – the other people with cancer – were amazing. I’ve never met such a postive, upbeat, indomitable group! (although the women with breast cancer – the only other people I met my own age and younger – broke my heart. It’s hard enough undergoing a brutal treatment regimen, but try adding a young family and economic stress into the mix).

        Having cancer has changed me, and I like to think for the better. It was a horrific experience, but knowing what I know now, I would never go back in time and “undo” it.

        But the worst of this could have been avoided if my doctor had just listened to me.

        Thanks Dr. Kim.

        I appreciate the time here. 😉

        Paul

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