Cancer, despite the advances in medical science, has remained as one of the world’s major diseases. It has touched almost all of us on earth, in one way or another. We either have it or are recovering from treatments; we had parents, relatives, or friends die from the disease; and we know of so many others who are struggling to come to terms with it.
It is not the death sentence that it once was, but mainly in developed nations such as the United Kingdom where half of all those diagnosed with cancer can survive for at least 10 years. The medical research establishment is still working on an absolute cure for the disease, which can target almost any part of the body with its abnormal cell growth.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), there are an estimated 14 million new cases of cancer every year, and 8.2 million deaths from cancer. In the next two decades this is expected to rise to 22 million cancer cases every year.
The IARC in its World Cancer Report 2014 noted that the most common cancers diagnosed are lung cancer, 13 percent of total; breast, 11.9 percent; and large bowel, 9.7 percent. It also reported that the most common causes of cancer deaths were lung cancer, 19.4 percent, liver, 9.1 percent, and stomach, 8.8 percent.
In the Philippines, about 98,200 Filipinos were newly diagnosed with cancer in 2012 with 59,000 deaths from cancer. Our five most frequent cancers, based on total number of cases are breast, lung, colorectum, liver, and cervix-uteri.
The incidence of cancer has grown to such alarming proportions that the IARC-WHO is emphasizing the need for efficient prevention strategies to curb the disease.
“Despite exciting advances, this Report shows that we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem,” said Dr. Christopher Wild, director of IARC. “More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally.”
Cancers are characterized by malignant tumors that can start in one part of the body and if untreated, begin to spread or metastasize. The conventional treatment now is a combination of surgery, chemo, radiation, and hormone therapies.
A key point of the World Cancer Report is its finding that 30 percent of the cancer deaths were due to dietary and behavioral risks such as high body mass index (obesity), low intake of fruits and vegetables, lack of physical activity or exercise, and the use of tobacco and alcohol.
Indeed, for lung cancer, cigarette smoking and other tobacco usage is the most important risk factor as it directly relates to 70 percent of lung cancer deaths. But for other cancers—and there are about 200 different types of cancer—it is not as easy to isolate the causes (as with other diseases, it is usually multi-factorial).
The most common factors are exposure to carcinogens, which can arise from substance abuse, pollution, or a toxic environment; age (the older and weaker we are, the more time and wherewithal for the abnormal cells to grow); genes (genetic mutations such as the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene, which increases a woman’s risk of having breast or ovarian cancer); the state of our immune system; viruses; bacterial infection; and lifestyle and dietary factors.
The last factor cited is the easiest one that we can manage as individuals if we want to undertake a cancer prevention plan. In addition, all adults over 50 years of age (or even younger) should undergo a regular medical check-up particularly if you have relatives from the first to second degree who have had cancer.
Both of parents died from cancer (one from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the other from colorectal cancer) thus this is a disease that weighs heavily on me. A book that I read recently, however, makes a positive case for prevention, a wealth of research into the top foods that are known to fight cancer cells.
“Foods to fight cancer: Essential foods to help prevent cancer,” (Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2007) is not an ordinary health or epicurean manual. It was written by two internationally renowned cancer researchers Professor Richard Beliveau and Dr. Denis Gingras who brought together in the book cutting-edge scientific data about specific foods that can help counter what they called a “formidable enemy.”
“These [scientific]studies strongly suggest that certain types of cancer can be prevented by modifying our dietary habits to include foods with the power to fight tumors at the source and thus prevent their growth,” Beliveau and Gingras said in their book.
The following are the food that the two cancer researchers tagged as “nutraceuticals” or foods that fight cancer:
· Garlic and Onions
· Green Tea
· Omega 3s
· Citrus Fruits
· Red Wine
· Dark Chocolate
A word on cabbage: the researchers refer not just to the common white cabbage, but also to the wide range of cruciferous vegetables of the family Brassicaceae. These include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and even bok choy, kailan, and kale. Studies show that eating three or more servings per week of these vegetables will lower one’s risk of developing various types of cancer.
Crucifers are an important source of phytochemical compounds with anticancer properties. Sulphoraphane is one of the star compounds and you’ll know it’s there by the distinctive smell when crucifers are cooked, coming from its Sulphur atom. Some of these phytochemicals are water soluble so make sure to steam your vegetables only up to tender-crisp level.
The book authors noted that the various food they cited are on par with many synthetic drugs, which is why they called them “nutraceuticals,” and that they can be a complement to the current medical therapies being used.
“We can seize this occasion to change the probabilities in our favor, since a diet based on a regular intake of nutraceuticals may indeed prevent the appearance of many different types of cancer,” said Beliveau and Gingras.