Health Matters: Reduce Your Cancer Risk Where You Can

While you can’t change your genetic predisposition to developing cancer, there are factors you can control to reduce your risk. Knowing which factors are tractable empowers you to reduce risk.

Dr. Everard Hughes, medical oncologist and hematologist at Ridgecrest Regional Health, breaks down exactly how these risks lead to cancer. “Our bodies are a collection of proteins that have functions. These proteins are designed and produced by our genetic code. If the gene instructions are damaged, then the function of the proteins are altered. Or, in a worst-case scenario, the function of the protein is completely lost. If the genetic code for cell growth or cell division is damaged, this damage causes uncontrolled cell division or cancer.”

Diet: Watch What You Eat

Dr. Hughes notes there aren’t specific foods to avoid in order to reduce your cancer risk. It’s more about how the food is prepared.

As a society that consumes too much fast food, one’s best bet is to avoid convenience foods. Preservatives in processed foods like sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are classified by the International Agency for the Research of Cancer as likely cancer-causing chemicals.

Cooking meat at high temperatures, such as through barbecuing and frying, creates polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules. “These molecules structurally look like our DNA, and accordingly, may interact with our genetic code,” warns Dr. Hughes. Frequent consumption of meats prepared in this way is associated with increased risk of colon, rectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Counteract Free Radicals

Chemistry class taught us that molecules can gain or lose electrons. These molecules are known as free radicals.

“Free radicals inevitably interact with cellular molecules and result in disruption of cellular processes. What we are especially concerned about is interference with regulation of cell growth,” explains Dr. Hughes. “So, high concentrations of these potentially damaging molecules can accumulate in the body, due to tobacco or alcohol use or certain metals such as iron, copper, chromium, cobalt, and arsenic.”

Dr. Hughes elucidates that there are currently no vitamins or supplements known to prevent the development of cancer.

Lifestyle Risks

Lifestyle adjustments can have a significant impact on reducing risk. For example, one can limit sun exposure and wear sunscreen as protection from skin cancer. The HPV vaccine can protect one from different diseases and cancers. The hepatitis B vaccination protects against liver cancer.

Exercise is an important factor as well. Dr. Hughes indicates there is an association between obesity and the development of six types of cancer—breast, pancreatic, uterine, kidney, rectal and colon. “Physical activity of at least three hours per week, strenuous activity, seems to provide a reduction in the risk for developing these cancers,” he mentions.

Alcohol and tobacco play a large role in damaging cells and fueling cancer growth. They provide toxins that populate the body with free radicals. It’s best to keep alcohol percentages on par with those found in a glass of wine or lower. Eliminate smoking from your lifestyle to further optimize cancer prevention.

Hughes**To listen to an interview with Dr. Everard Hughes, medical oncologist and hematologist at Ridgecrest Regional Health, follow this link: