By Nagi Kumar, Ph.D.
Moffitt Cancer Center
We are living in an exciting era where several novel approaches, including immunotherapies and targeted therapies, have been discovered to treat cancer successfully. As a result, there are more than 22 million cancer survivors in the world today!
However, it continues to be clear that the most promising approach is to focus on preventing cancer. Studies have continued to show that environmental exposures, lifestyle choices and other factors that can be changed or avoided account for between 70 percent to 90 percent of gene mutations that cause cancer.
Based on this research, here are eight powerful strategies for preventing cancer! These recommendations will also benefit those individuals who are at high risk for cancer or cancer survivors who have completed treatment.
1. The Power of Phytochemicals
We are surrounded by hundreds of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and spices that are rich in vitamins, minerals and other essential substances called phytochemicals, which are critical for maintaining health and preventing diseases. Phytochemicals are substances found in plants that have been shown, used alone or in combination, to prevent cancer and heart disease, as well as control diabetes. More than 80 individual and combinations of these plant chemicals that we eat show great promise in targeting several cancer-causing pathways in the cells of our body.
Goal: Include more than 10 servings of red, yellow, green, orange, blue and purple vegetables and fruits a day. The top 10 super fruits and vegetables include mango, oranges, papaya, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, cantaloupe, blueberries, strawberries and watermelon. Mixing colors, textures, shapes and flavors, temperature and sizes of these ingredients ensures an exotic and unpredictable experience. The general rule of thumb is to paint your plate like a painter’s palate at each meal. Fruit and vegetable smoothies are a great option if you are on the run to make sure that you get your fruits and vegetables for the day.
2. The Power of Proteins
Proteins are critical to maintaining the structure and functions of our body. They help build muscles large and small and are found in every hormone. They are important for repair and maintenance, to maintain fluid balance, to make antibodies (soldiers that defend our body), to transport iron and oxygen to every cell, and to support vision. High-quality proteins are in eggs, milk, rice, beans, meats, fish, poultry and corn. Combining foods like rice and beans or rice and corn improves the quality of the proteins. Meats such as beef are indeed a rich source of many nutrients — especially protein and vitamin A, along with vitamins B3, B6 and B12, iron, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. Pork is a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamin). However, the amount of fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) in red meats is high.
Select fresh, lean cuts such as top round, an eye of round, tenderloin, sirloin and filet mignon. Avoid processed meats and charred meats that have been shown to increase the risk of stomach and other gastrointestinal tract cancers. Omega-3 fats are essential fats found in fish such as salmon, cod, and halibut; omega-3 rich eggs; and a few uncommon plant sources, such as walnut, flax, canola, soy, and pumpkin seed. These omega-3 fats generate chemical transmitters that suppress inflammation and are being evaluated for cancer prevention and treatment of cancer symptoms.
Goal: Include 6-8 ounces of these high-quality proteins including those rich in omega-3 fats.
3. The Power of Good Quality Fats
Although "fats" in your diet remain the villains that you have to combat on a daily basis, data has shown that we do need "good fats” to maintain good health. A recent analysis of more than 20 studies conducted over the years has shown that fats consumed from sources such as nuts reduces the risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as diabetes and other causes of early death. A new study reported in 2017 has found that eating nuts on a regular basis strengthens brainwave frequencies associated with cognition, healing, learning, memory and other key brain functions. Although nuts are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they are also high in calories and healthy fats that are polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Thus, it is important to not go "nuts" over nuts. Moderation is the key.
Goal: Include an ounce of pistachio, almonds, pecans, walnuts or cashew nuts in your daily diet.
4. Power of Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics and probiotics have been found to support several biological processes that are important for maintaining good health and preventing cancer. Probiotics are groups of millions of good or useful bacteria in the digestive tract. The dynamic populations of these millions of good bacteria are important for absorbing critical nutrients including phytochemicals, impacting several important immune functions and inactivating cancer-causing substances. Natural sources of these important bacteria are found in fermented yogurts including Activia and other cultured milk products. Prebiotics are complex sugars (such as lactulose, lactitol, a variety of fructooligosaccharides, and inulin) that are found in high fiber foods (beans, lentils, nuts) and are known to ferment and stimulate the growth of useful bacteria while suppressing the growth and activity of harmful organisms. Other foods that enhance probiotic activity are fermented soy products such as tofu, Japanese miso, tempeh, kefir, bananas, garlic and onions.
Goal: Include three to four sources of probiotics and prebiotics in your daily diet.
5. The Power of Purposeful Physical Activity
There are several benefits of a purposeful physical activity that have been well established. Getting 45 minutes of daily activity helps prevent the aging process by controlling body weight; maintaining healthy bones, muscles, and joints; reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes, and most importantly improving psychological well-being. Recent research shows that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of colon and breast cancers. Several studies also have reported links between physical activity and a reduced risk of prostate, lung and endometrial cancers. Recent studies have shown that small group and partner exercises keep individuals motivated and accountable while adding fun and variety to an exercise routine.
Goal: Determine the best time and form of purposeful physical activity that suits your lifestyle and is realistic. Engage in purposeful physical activity for 45 minutes a day. Simple, brisk walking at sunrise or sunset is a great habit to form in 2018!
6. The Power of Protecting from Harmful Exposure to UV Radiation
One of the most common types of cancer is skin cancer. The good news is that it is also the most preventable. Avoid sunbathing and unnecessary sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the peak hours for exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. When outdoors, use sunscreens rated SPF 15 or higher. Apply them liberally, uniformly and frequently. When exposed to sunlight, wear protective clothing, broad-brimmed hats, and UV-protective sunglasses. Tanning beds and sunlamps are just as harmful as sunbathing, if not worse. If you are engaged in outdoor activities during the day (golf, tennis or just walking), it is important to use sunscreen, protective sunglasses and hats/caps.
Goal: Must haves for the new year: sunscreen, cool hat and sunglasses to use when you are outdoors!
7. The Power of Protecting from Tobacco Smoke
Tobacco, like UV radiation, is the single greatest avoidable risk factor for cancer prevention. Smoking causes many types of cancer, including cancers of the lung, esophagus, larynx (voice box), mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach and cervix. About 70 percent of lung cancer cases can be attributed to smoking alone. Second-hand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, has been proven to cause lung cancer in nonsmoking adults. Smokeless tobacco (also called oral tobacco, chewing tobacco or snuff) causes oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer.
Goal: If you are a tobacco user/smoker, get help to quit. If you live with a smoker, provide all your support to help them quit. Call the FreshBreak® Clinic at Moffitt at 813-745-1751.
8. The Power of Screening, Early Cancer Detection and Vaccination
Screening tests for lung, melanoma, breast, colon and other cancers can help diagnose tumors early, before symptoms appear. When abnormal tissue or pre-cancer is found early, these changes are relatively less complex and are easier to treat or cure. Some individuals are known to be at high risk for cancer, such as those with a personal history of cancer or a strong family history of cancer.
Here are screening tests available to diagnose several cancers early:
- Mammography: This method to screen for breast cancer has been shown to reduce deaths from the disease among women ages 40 to 74, especially those age 50 or older.
- Clinical breast exams and regular breast self-exams
- Routine examination of the breasts by health care providers or by women themselves have not been shown to reduce deaths from breast cancer.
- Breast MRI: This imaging test is often used for women who carry a harmful mutation in the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene; such women have a high risk of breast cancer, as well as increased risk for other cancers.
- Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing: These tests reduce the incidence of cervical cancer because they allow abnormal cells to be identified and treated before they become cancer. They also reduce deaths from cervical cancer. Testing is generally recommended to begin at age 21 and end at age 65, as long as recent results have been normal.
- CA-125 test: This blood test, which is often done together with a transvaginal ultrasound, may be used to try to detect ovarian cancer early, especially in women with an increased risk of the disease.
- Transvaginal ultrasound: This imaging test, which can create pictures of a woman’s ovaries and uterus, is sometimes used in women who are at increased risk of ovarian cancer (because they carry a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation) or endometrial cancer (because they have a condition called Lynch syndrome.)
- PSA test: This blood test, which is often done along with a digital rectal exam, is able to detect prostate cancer at an early stage.
- Skin exams: Doctors recommend that people who are at risk for skin cancer examine their skin regularly or have a health care provider do so.
- Low-dose computed tomography: This test to screen for lung cancer has been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths among heavy smokers ages 55 to 74. Learn more about screening guidlines.
- People who are at average risk for colorectal cancer should have screening at ages 50 through 75.
- Colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBTs)
- Virtual colonoscopy: This test allows the colon and rectum to be examined from outside the body.
- Alpha-fetoprotein blood test: This test is sometimes used, along with ultrasound of the liver, to try to detect liver cancer early in people at high risk of the disease.
Preventive (or prophylactic) vaccines, which are intended to prevent cancer from developing in healthy people:
- Cervical Cancer: Human papillomavirus vaccines - Gardasil®, Gardasil 9®, and Cervarix®. The HPV vaccine, considered landmark progress in cancer prevention, significantly decreases the incidence of cervical cancer.
- Liver Cancer: Hepatitis B virus vaccines - Engerix-B and Recombivax HB
Find out if you or your family members are in the high category or age range to receive these vaccines by calling Moffitt Cancer Center at 1-888-663-3488.
Goal: Several screening, early detection tests and vaccinations are now recommended for healthy men and women. Call Moffitt at 1-888-663-3488 or fill out our new patient registration form to determine the best tests based on your age and individual risk profile.