You have the power to prevent cancer.
A lot of it depends on lifestyle choices — the food you eat, whether you smoke, if you like suntanned skin. Personal decisions like these and other factors that can be changed account for 70 to 90 percent of the mutations that cause cancer, according to new research in the journal Nature.
That means by making certain, specific changes you may be able to significantly reduce your risk of certain cancers, including breast, prostate, colorectal, lung, skin and cervical.
"These are things you can do today to prevent cancer, not something that someone else has to do for you," said Nagi Kumar, a researcher and director of cancer chemoprevention at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. "Knowing this means you can take responsibility for your own health risk prevention. And not just for preventing cancer, but for other major chronic health problems like heart disease and diabetes."
Kumar developed six strategies that anyone can adopt to reduce their risk of many cancers or a cancer recurrence. Her list comes as cancer is once again part of the national discussion.
During his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Barack Obama launched a new effort to "make America the country that cures cancer once and for all." He put Vice President Joe Biden, whose son died from brain cancer last year, in charge of the campaign. And Moffitt has been working with Biden's office to help lead the effort.
Kumar's strategies focus on preventing cellular changes that can lead to cancer.
"We know that these changes, these genetic aberrations that occur in cells, are easier to reverse if caught early, before they become cancer," she said. At the top of the list are phytochemicals found primarily in brightly colored fruits and vegetables which target cellular pathways that lead to cancer.
"These plant chemicals target every pathway simultaneously to prevent cancer without toxicity," Kumar said. "All we need to do is eat a lot of them."
When Donna Jackson heard that advice in 2014, shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she immediately started to change her diet. Gone were beef, dairy and mindless eating. In their place: purposely chosen foods found to have healing benefits, antioxidants, phytochemicals, pre and probiotics and anti-inflammatory properties.
"The American diet is horrible and I grew up on red meat and unhealthy choices," said Jackson, a retired nurse who lives with her husband in Westchase. "Now I do chicken, turkey, very lean pork, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, one or two eggs a week, no soy, no cow milk products. I buy organic whenever possible."
She also changed her cleaning and personal care products to those that are chemical free. She grows some of her favorite and more difficult to find leaves and greens in pots around her home. Every morning she juices a concoction of Granny Smith apples, carrots, kale, spinach, sweet potato or beet leaves, fresh ginger root, lemon and turmeric.
If she and her husband eat out, "I quiz them up and down, pick and choose wisely and then pray that the food will be good for me."
In addition to at least 10 servings of super fruits and vegetables a day, Kumar recommends high-quality proteins, prebiotics and probiotics, getting purposeful physical activity, avoiding the sun and tobacco and keeping up with recommended cancer vaccines and screening tests.
"These are all things we know you can do to prevent cancer or detect it early, when it can be treated and managed as a chronic disease," said Kumar.
If that all sounds a bit daunting, think of what convinced Donna Jackson to adopt what she calls an anticancer lifestyle.
"When you get diagnosed with cancer you get walloped," she said. "Knowing the benefit of all these changes is that you're going to be halting the production of cancer cells, then it's not a hard choice to make."
Contact Irene Maher at email@example.com.
Moffitt Cancer Center's director of cancer chemoprevention, Nagi Kumar, who also is a registered dietitian and director of nutrition research at Moffitt, developed a list of strategies most of us can adopt to reduce the risk of cancer or a recurrence of the disease after treatment.
Get a daily dose of phytochemicals
Found in plants, they show great promise in preventing cancer and heart disease and in helping control diabetes. More than 70 combinations of these plant chemicals target specific cancer-causing pathways in our cells. Get 10 servings a day from Kumar's list of super fruits and vegetables, which includes mangoes, oranges, papaya, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, cantaloupe, blueberries, strawberries and watermelon.
Tap into the power of protein
Protein is essential for the repair and maintenance of most systems in the body, especially the making of antibodies, our natural disease fighters. Choose 6 to 8 ounces a day of high-quality proteins such as eggs, milk, rice, beans, lean meats, fish, poultry and corn. Lean cuts of meat include top round, eye of round, tenderloin, sirloin and filet. Avoid processed and charred meats. Pay particular attention to omega-3-rich fats found in salmon, cod, halibut, eggs, walnuts, flax, canola, soy and pumpkin seeds, which suppress inflammation and may contribute to cancer prevention.
Include probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics, or good bacteria in the digestive tract, help absorb phytochemicals, support the immune system and inactivate cancer-causing substances. They are found in fermented yogurts and other cultured milk products. Prebiotics are complex sugars found in high-fiber foods such as beans, lentils and nuts. They ferment and stimulate growth of useful bacteria while suppressing growth and activity of harmful organisms. Boost probiotic activity with tofu, Japanese miso, tempeh, kefir, bananas, garlic and onions. Try to include three or four sources of probiotics and prebiotics a day.
Get purposeful physical activity
Exercise has been shown to promote healthy body weight, bones, muscles and joints and to help prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, colon and breast cancers and possibly prostate, lung and endometrial cancers. Get 45 minutes of purposeful, sustained physical activity a day.
Pass on tobacco and protect yourself from the sun
Most skin cancer is preventable if you avoid sunbathing, tanning beds and unnecessary sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Use sunscreen liberally, and reapply it frequently; cover up with clothing and wear a broad-brimmed hat and UV-protective sunglasses.
Tobacco use is associated with at least 10 different cancers, and chewing tobacco and snuff with three cancers. Seventy percent of lung cancers are associated with smoking alone. Secondhand smoke is a known cause of lung cancer in nonsmoking adults. If you use tobacco, quit. Moffitt offers the FreshBreak Clinic to help: (813) 745-1751.
Screen and vaccinate on schedule
Screening tests for lung, melanoma, breast, colon and other cancers can help with early detection, making treatment easier and cure possible. Ask your doctor about available screening tests, especially if you're at high risk for cancer and other health conditions. Also, discuss the HPV vaccine for adolescents and young adults to prevent skin warts and sexually transmitted cancers.
Healing Chicken Soup
¼ cup olive oil
½ to 1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (3-inch) piece ginger root, cut into strips
¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder or small piece of fresh root, minced
2 ½ to 3 pounds of chicken pieces (organic or non-GMO)
6 cups of water or organic chicken broth (low- or no-sodium if preferred)
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 small green papaya or 1 medium chayote, cut into 1-inch wedges
Handful of moringa leaves (see note), spinach leaves or red pepper leaves
Shredded carrot or chopped scallion, to garnish
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot on medium heat. Add minced garlic and cook until golden. Add chopped onion, cooking until slightly browned. Toss in ginger root and turmeric. Stir and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add chicken pieces to pot and brown on both sides. Pour in all the water or chicken broth and simmer approximately 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if desired. Add the green papaya or chayote pieces. Cook another 5 to 7 minutes until crisp tender. Toss in moringa leaves or greens, cooking an additional 3 minutes. Top each serving with shredded carrot or chopped scallion.
Makes 6 servings.
Note: Moringa leaves, grown in tropical climates for their health-promoting properties, are sometimes available in health food stores, or you can grow your own.
Source: Donna Jackson
Powerful Pancakes With Blueberry Sauce
This recipe includes several of Dr. Kumar's recommended foods for their cancer-fighting properties: pumpkin, walnuts, omega-3-rich eggs and blueberries. Chop the walnuts very finely to get good distribution.
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine table salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 large Egg-Land's Best eggs (see note)
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons of very finely chopped walnuts
For the blueberry sauce:
3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
½ cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cool water
Whisk together both flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, pumpkin puree and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until barely combined. Fold in walnuts but do not over-mix the batter.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees to keep pancakes warm during cooking.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray. Pour quarter-cup scoops of batter onto skillet. Cook until edges appear dry and bubbles appear on surface, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook until golden brown, about 2 more minutes. Spray skillet before adding batter each time.
Transfer pancakes to oven to keep warm until ready to serve.
Make the blueberry sauce: Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring gently but constantly, until sauce thickens, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Top pancakes with blueberry sauce.
Makes about 15 pancakes.
Note: Egg-Land's Best eggs have more omega-3s, slightly fewer calories and less saturated fat and cholesterol than standard eggs, but standard eggs will work.
Source: Adapted by Irene Maher from completelydelicious.com; blueberry sauce adapted from Cooking Light