Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Ontarians by supporting 21 different health charities providing critical services to those experiencing, or affected by, illness. We believe education and prevention are key parts of supporting the health of our communities so our weekly Health Hint series strives to provide tangible and easy to implement hints and tips on how to maintain your health, prevent disease, and enjoy increased quality of life. Check out our latest Health Hint on cancer prevention. We hope you find it helpful. If you would like to join our efforts to support the health of Ontario please consider a donation to Federated Health Charities.
What is Cancer
Your body is composed of trillions of individual cells. Throughout your life, your cells grow, perform their intended functions, divide into new cells, and die. Your genes hold the instructions your cells use to accomplish their tasks. Sometimes your cells don’t follow the instructions and they begin to grow and divide rapidly and unexpectedly. Gene mutations can be inherited or develop over time and turn normal cells into cancer cells. When this happens, the renegade cells can form a tumor. Some tumors are benign (not cancerous) and the quickly multiplying cells don’t move to other parts of your body. However, when tumors grow and spread into other parts of your body, they are malignant and cancerous. Tumors are dangerous because they can grow into and damage organs and tissues in your body. Some cancers, like leukemia, are not characterized by tumors but by abnormal blood cells in your bone marrow and blood. There are many different types of cancers and the Canadian Cancer Society provides an overview here.
Causes of Cancer
Most cancers are not caused by a single known agent and there are usually several risk factors involved. The Canadian Cancer Society defines a risk factor as “any substance or condition that increases the risk of developing cancer”. Prolonged and regular contact with risk factors increases the chance that cancer will develop.
Unfortunately, even a person without any known risk factors can develop cancer. No cancer is 100% preventable but there are many preventive measures that everyone can try to help mitigate their risk of developing cancer. Because it can take many years for cancer to develop, it’s important to identify risk factors and try to eliminate or reduce their impacts in your life. Some people can come into contact with several risk factors on a daily basis.
The best preventive measures for reducing the chances of developing cancer focus on healthy lifestyle habits. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, about 4 in 10 cancer cases can be prevented through healthy living and policies that protect the health of Canadians. While genetics and environmental factors will always play a role, there’s plenty you can do to reduce your risk. Try these habits: Moderate your alcohol consumption. This means less than 1 drink a day for women and less than 2 drinks a day for men. Drinking more than 1 drink per day increases the chances of developing mouth, throat, breast, liver, and colorectal cancer.
Eat a balanced, healthy diet. This includes eating more fruits and vegetables, eating less red meat, sugar, and highly processed foods, and avoiding trans fats. The Canadian Cancer Society has a wealth of information on healthy eating on their website here.
1. Moderate your alcohol consumption. This means less than 1 drink a day for women and less than 2 drinks a day for men. Drinking more than 1 drink per day increases the chances of developing mouth, throat, breast, liver, and colorectal cancer.
2. Try to maintain a healthy weight. Excessive weight has been linked to an increased chance of developing some cancers.
3. If you work with asbestos, silica, or other workplace hazards, wear proper PPE to limit your exposure.
4. HPV and other infections can increase your chances of developing cancer so consider getting vaccinated.
5. If you have a basement consider getting it tested for radon. Radon can pool and collect in low places in your home and prolonged radon exposure has been linked to lung cancer.
6. Wear sunscreen! Exposure to UV rays can lead to skin cancer.
7. Quit smoking. Tobacco use is the most common cause of cancer which was involved in over 30,000 preventable cases (in Canada in 2015).
8. Talk to your doctor about earlier screenings if cancer runs in your family
9. Avoid any sources of radiation exposure. This could mean only getting medical tests like X-rays when necessary. Avoiding risk factors that damage genes can help to prevent gene mutations which in turn can lead to cancer.
Some risk factors, like air pollution, are harder to mitigate since you may not have direct control over them. The Canadian Cancer Society has many resources about different types of environmental factors and how you can help mitigate their effects.
Your life matters! Here is an infographic showing the numbers of cancer cases that could have been prevented by avoiding risk factors and practicing healthy habits. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada and is responsible for 30% of all deaths. 70,200 cancer cases could have been prevented (in Canada in 2015). Do your best to adopt healthy habits so you can avoid cancer and live a fulfilling life.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our latest Health Hint!
Written by Jennifer Nemcik
NOTE: This article is intended to provide general health tips based on available research. You should consult with a health care professional for specific medical and dietary instructions that are right for you.