By Terri Taylor
What factors do you think increase the average person’s risk of developing cancer? If you answered chemicals, pollution and genetics, you are consistent with the majority of respondents in the American Institute for Cancer Research Cancer Risk Awareness Survey. These outside factors are certainly a concern, however the biggest risks are found inside the body. Body weight, exercise and eating habits play a role in cancer prevention and survivorship.
Historically, cancer research has focused on the tumor itself. Now, investigators are learning that the environment surrounding the tumor, known as the microenvironment, may have the most influence on the development, growth and spread of cancer cells. Hormones, growth factors and blood vessels make up the tumor microenvironment. Each can create chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and immune system defects to potentially feed cancer cell growth.
What does this have to do with you? Your lifestyle choices help modulate the microenvironment to reduce your cancer risk. These guidelines are recommended to optimize your health:
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY BODY WEIGHT. Research links obesity to a higher risk of 13 cancers, as well as heart disease and diabetes. Body fat, especially belly fat, produces hormones to promote chronic inflammation and increase cancer risk.
EAT A VARIETY OF PLANT FOODS DAILY. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and spices provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are natural plant substances that exert anti-cancer effects. They act to reduce inflammation and oxidation, cut off blood flow and nourishment to cancer cells, and support normal immune function. Fiber binds cancer-promoting hormones including estrogen, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor and eliminates them from your body. Eating fiber fills you up, not out, to help control weight. At every meal, cover half of your plate with vegetables and fruits and the remainder with whole grains and lean protein.
CUT DOWN ON RED AND PROCESSED MEATS. Eating beef, veal, lamb and pork in excess of 18 ounces cooked per week poses a cancer risk. Their saturated fat and heme iron are thought to be the culprits. Nitrates, nitrites and the smoking and curing processes used in cold cuts, bacon, sausage and hot dogs seem to foster cancer growth. Uncured products without chemicals are available. Cancer-causing chemicals can also be formed when grilling or charring meat, poultry and fish. Marinade or use a dry rub of herbs and cook meat, poultry and fish slowly at low temperatures to counteract the damage.
BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE. Moving your body lowers body fat and reduces hormone production. This in turn decreases inflammation. Whatever activity you enjoy, be it walking, biking, swimming, dancing or something else, aim for a total of 30 minutes daily at least five days a week.
Sustaining these healthy living guidelines requires a supportive community. Take advantage of local farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture (CSA), cooking classes, gyms, pools, and walking and biking paths to keep your body lean, green and cancer unfriendly!
Visit honorhealth.com for information on community events and classes.
Terri Taylor, RD, CSO is a registered dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition. She is the nutrition educator for the HonorHealth Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center. Her practice includes individual nutritional counseling, group classes and community speaking.
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