What is cancer? Cancer is not a single disease but a group of diseases, cause by cells that change and grow out of control. Most cancer cells form a lump or mass known as a tumor. Cells from the tumor can break away and travel to other parts of the body where they can continue to grow, in a spreading process called metastasis. Not all tumors are cancerous; a non-cancerous tumor is usually not life-threatening.
Thanks to the advanced treatments available today, many types of cancer can be cured, especially when found in the early stages. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to see your doctor regularly. He or she will order tests that detect cancer in its early stages, when it can be treated most effectively.
The Importance of Lifestyle
Studies have shown that lifestyle factors, such as diet, body weight, tobacco use, and sexual practices, play a major role in cancer development. According to these studies, people who adopt a healthy lifestyle could reduce their risk of developing cancer.
Adopting healthy eating habits is one of the best defenses against cancer, since obesity can increase your risk for colon, uterine, and post-menopausal breast cancers. Studies show that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of getting many forms of cancer.
It's also important to exercise regularly, since physical activity can lower the risk of cancer. Adults should have at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five or more times a week. Increasing activity levels to 45 minutes of vigorous exercise can reduce the chance of developing breast or colon cancer.
Alcohol is another factor that can affect your risk of getting cancer. Cancers of the mouth, throat, breast, and esophagus are linked to alcohol. Heavy drinking is connected with liver cancer.
Another major factor in a healthy lifestyle is the decision not to smoke. Tobacco has been identified as the cause of a large number of cancers, primarily of the mouth, throat, and lungs. Cancers of the esophagus, colon, stomach, pancreas, liver, bladder, and cervix, as well as leukemia, have also been linked to smoking.
Sexually transmitted diseases have been linked to cancer of the sexual organs, so following safe-sex guidelines is important. Restricting the number of sexual partners, knowing the sexual history of those partners, and using condoms can help reduce the chance of getting cancer of the cervix, vulva, or penis.
The Power to Prevent
You can't change your family history or your age, both of which can raise your risk for developing certain cancers. However, you can change lifestyle choices, like smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, and exposing yourself to the sun. Consider these facts:
- Tobacco use will cause about 180,000 cancer deaths in the United States in 2004, according to the American Cancer Society. This accounts for nearly one third of all cancer deaths.
- Approximately one third of the 563,700 cancer deaths expected to occur in 2004 will be related to poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity, and other lifestyle choices.
- Many of the 1 million skin cancers expected to be diagnosed in 2004 could have been prevented by protection from the sun's rays.
Certain factors increase your chance of getting cancer bur doesn't always cause the disease. Many people with one or more risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Still, it's never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle:
- Choose most of your foods from plant sources.
- Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Choose whole grains rather than processed (refined) grains and sugars.
- Limit the amount of red meat you eat.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week.
- Don't smoke or use tobacco products.
- Limit your intake of alcohol.
- Practice safe sex.
- Protect yourself from the sun.
- Talk to your doctor about screening tests for cancer.