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Cancer Prevention Through Diet Modification

Submitted by on August 20, 2012 – 2:22 AM

Cancer is a devastating disease with significant health implications in terms of morbidity and mortality. Every person is susceptible in varying degrees depending upon the genetic makeup and environmental factors.

Given the severe and often devastating course of illness with a therapy having its own adverse effects, we should do our part to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Believe it or not, a worthwhile power to decrease the risk of cancer development is in our hands; knowledge and its supplication is the power. Information is readily available so that we can all learn what to do on daily basis to help prevent cancer, to incorporate the information in our dealings with patients and their guidance and to spread public awareness about what cancer actually is and how life style can contribute towards alleviating the risks of cancer development.

Cancer development is attributed to a number of factors predominantly hereditary and environmental. Hereditary actors are controlled by one’s genetic makeup, not much can be done about prevention of hereditary factors. What we can do to help prevent cancer development is to reduce or eliminate environmental factors. These factors are not actually a definite cause of cancer, they are just the contributing agents e.g. smoking increases the chances of getting cancer but it’s not a cause as a smoker can live up to 100 years without having cancer. In a similar vein there are environmental factors which can greatly increase your chances of a getting a specific cancer, these can be factors such as Asbestos or exposure to toxic chemicals. It is a good idea to visit a brand new site that you have never seen before in order to increase your knowledge of niche cancers.

Environmental factors are all things that we are exposed to on daily basis, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the lifestyle we choose. The thing that is most controllable of amongst the factors listed above is the food we eat. The factors can be controlled through diet modification and altering the diet patterns. Studies have shown that diet is associated with 20-40 % of all cancers, usually attributed to poor dietary intake qualitatively.


The influence of environmental factors in general and food in particular in developing the cancer has been supported over and over by studies. For instance, more than 5 fold variation occurs in the incidence of breast cancer rates around the world. It has been shown that women who migrate from regions of low incidence to regions of high incidence acquire the high rates of that region.

Nutrition, quality and quantity of food, plays an immense role in cancer pathogenesis. High red meat consumption increases the risk of developing colon cancer. High salty food intake increases the risk of stomach cancer. High caloric intake and sedentary lifestyle predisposes the individual to elevated cancer risk. Alcohol consumption and tobacco use are linked to cancers of stomach, liver, and oral cavity. Salted, smoked and cured (processed) food is potential source of carcinogens. Salted and smoked food possesses nitrites and nitroso compounds acting as potential initiators for the cancer cells.
Besides food, the cooking process through which the food is prepared itself can cause generation of carcinogens from the protein and fat component of the food. Few types of cooking like, barbecuing, frying, broiling increases the development of hetero cyclic amines and nitrosamines.  Now it’s impossible to eliminate the usage of the food cooked through the above mentioned cooking processes yet one can easily control the quantity and frequency of intake can be reduced.
On contrary, there are certain food items which are beneficial in preventing the cancer. Such food items includes adequate intake of fruits and vegetables that provide, adequate amounts of essential vitamins like vitamin A and C along with trace elements and antioxidants and phytochemicals, folic acid and fibers both soluble and insoluble. Fibers and vegetable protects against colorectal, pancreatic, breast, stomach and oral cancers. Green tea and to a lesser extent black tea contains flavonoids and antioxidants that are cancer protectors.
In addition to this, healthy life style also positively contributes in developing an immune against the cancer. One such example of healthy life style is exercise. Exercise protects against cancer through increasing the immune function, affect hormones and insulin levels shorten the stool’s transit time through the intestine hence reducing exposure to carcinogens.

The fact remains that human race is encountering the menace of cancer, which is affecting the masses all across the globe.  While the diagnosis and subsequent treatment are very costly, the need of the hour is to start this war against cancer through the basic and simplest of tools which include creating awareness among the masses on how they can move towards a healthy cancer free life through proper diet, cooking patterns and with a healthy life style. A substantial portion of the cancers can be prevented by simple lifestyle and behavioral changes.


Adoption of cancer healthy life style must be advocated. We as clinicians must practice and preach a lifestyle adoption with moderate high fat intake; decrease processed, salted and smoked food consumption, increase intake of fluids, fruits and fibers with limited sugar intake and active lifestyle. Cessation of smoking, alcohol and tobacco use must be done. Screening processes must be employed by medical professionals for early detection that leads to a fairly better prognosis.
The key to success in fighting and preventing cancer is moderation in all spheres of life with careful assessment of the quality and quantity of food intake.


About the Author: Laila Shakeel Abbasi is a dentistry student at Army Medical College, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. She has received several scholarships during her academic career. She can be contacted at: [email protected].


About this article: This article is competing for the JPMS International Medical Writing Contest 2012. The last date for submission has been extended to September 2o, 2012.

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