How to lower cancer risk with ‘mix of six’ behaviors

WASHINGTON — Cancer is among the leading causes of death, worldwide.

This year, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. And across the globe, the number of new cancer cases per year is expected to reach 23.6 million by 2030.

But researchers out of Houston, Texas, say adopting a few healthy habits can bring those numbers down.

“We know pretty clearly now that the majority of cancers in our world could be prevented if people made simple, yet very important changes in their lifestyle,” said Lorenzo Cohen, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

In the book “Anticancer Living,” Cohen, along with co-author and educator Alison Jefferies, explain how six healthy behaviors work synergistically to provide a first line of defense against cancer on a cellular level.

“Cell mutations are going to happen, and they’re happening all the time in our body. It’s just part of the process,” Cohen said.

“But there are many checks and balances within the systems … and so when that mutated cell happens, we want it to be checked by the system that’s in place to ensure that mutating cells don’t grow into a cancer.”

What’s in this system of checks and balances? First is having love and support from family and friends.

“And that is really the foundational piece for lifestyle change,” Jefferies said.

Research published in several sources, including the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, shows that social relationships have an impact on mental, physical and behavioral health, as well as one’s mortality risk.

“So you really need to start with social support and love and building a team of people that are going to help you to make that change,” Jefferies said.

Other factors that can impact one’s risk for cancer are stress, sleep, exercise and diet, all of which are interrelated when it comes to health.

For example, Cohen said, “There’s research showing that stress will actually decrease the benefits of healthy eating.”

An article published in Harvard Health reports that stress can shut down one’s appetite in the short term, but if that stress persists, the body releases a hormone that increases appetite.

Sleep can also affect one’s diet and weight.

“We know that sleeping well will actually impact your metabolism, and there’s a link between sleep deprivation and being obese or overweight. So all of these, again, are interrelated,” Cohen said.

“If you’re overweight, if you’re extremely tired, if you’re displaying signs of incredible stress, that is a mirror of what is happening inside of the body at the cellular level. … And if you’re chronically obese, stressed and sedentary, the chances that mutated cell is going to become a full-blown cancer is much, much higher.”

Cohen makes it very clear that not all cancers can be prevented, even in the healthiest humans. Plus, the National Cancer Institute states there are factors that increase risk for cancer that one cannot control, including age and family history.

However, focusing on improving one’s health in the areas of stress, diet, sleep, socialization, exercise and environmental exposures (the sixth element in the mix) can improve one’s ability to ward off preventable cancers — even help treat a diagnosed cancer.

“It’s very important to create that balance in your system so that you can be healthy, and if you are facing a cancer diagnosis, that your body can work with whatever treatment you’re doing in the best possible way,” Cohen said.

“I think we are now at a point in our society where the way we are going is not sustainable, the focus on the cure instead of prevention is not the way forward to sustain us as a society, and luckily, even at the government level we are starting to see that, and much more efforts are going to be put into this area of what we call anticancer living.”

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