While no cancer is totally preventable, taking certain precautionary measures can help minimize your risk of developing this life-threatening disease.
Such measures include holistic approaches you can follow to aid in risk reduction, prevention, and the overall enhancement of your immune system.
Hereditary vs. Acquired: Know Your Risks
Knowing whether you are at high-risk for cancer can be helpful when thinking about preventative measures. Being a high-risk individual can mean you have a family history of cancer, or you’ve tested positive for a certain genetic predisposition. Most well-known is the BRCA gene in breast cancer, but there are genetic variations for every cancer type.
This is called hereditary cancer, where nature often wins over nurture. However, even with a genetic predisposition, there is never a 100 percent chance that you will receive a cancer diagnosis.
There’s also the risk of developing cancer over time based on your environment and high-risk lifestyle choices. This is known as acquired cancer, which is much more common. Since acquired cancers are rooted in both lifestyle and environmental conditions, the good news is that this type is much more preventable.
Adopting a Preventative Lifestyle
Research from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has shown that “Of all cancer-related deaths ... as many as 30–35 percent are linked to diet.” One of the simplest things you can do to improve your health is to become more aware of the foods, substances, and overall treatment of your body.
“We have a growing body of evidence suggesting that healthy nutrition may decrease cancer recurrence risk and improve cancer survival,” says Dr. Heather Greenlee, a public health researcher and naturopathic physician who focuses on cancer prevention and control at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “Towards this aim, the Fred Hutch Cook for Your Life
resource offers patients, their caregivers, and their clinicians evidence-based information on what to eat and how to eat at different points along the cancer journey, including prevention, during treatment, and in survivorship.”
Dr. Philip Castle, Director, NCI Division of Cancer Prevention, also reminds us that while there is no magic pill, it is our lifestyle that matters. “Unfortunately, no specific foods or activities are proven to prevent cancer, except perhaps avoiding cooked red meat,” he notes in a recent post at NCI’s Cancer Currents Blog. “Still, we know that obesity increases the risk for about 13 cancers. And we know that a healthy lifestyle, including weight management, will likely reduce your cancer risk.”
Incorporating Mindfulness Practices
More than a popular buzzword, mindfulness represents the development of a deep sense of awareness in everything we think, say, and do—and this includes our health. Mindfulness practices are becoming more recognized in Western medicine, and today most hospitals have developed their own integrative (alternative) medicine centers offering mindfulness support for patients who have already received a cancer diagnosis.
[Read: “Yoga and Meditation Protect Cancer Survivors at Cellular Level.”]
One of the best ways to train your body and mind to become more aware, is to develop a regular meditative practice. A specific and very simple meditative technique I recommend to all of my clients who are struggling with their health is to VISUALIZE IT. Close your eyes and visualize yourself in perfect health. Visualize where you are, what you look like, who you’re with, what you’re wearing, and, most importantly, how it feels
to be in this vision of perfect health. Continue the visualization for at least 5 - 15 minutes.
It seems simple right? However, this technique is also backed by the neuroscience phenomena on the power of the imagination—that imagining something happening to us, verses something happening in real time, impacts our brain similarly. What this suggests is that our imagination has a powerful impact on brain function, which of course then impacts our overall body function.
Meditation is also officially recognized as an integrative practice for patients diagnosed with cancer, so incorporating this practice beforehand can be beneficial in many ways. Studies have shown that a regular meditation practice can help decrease chronic pain, improve mood, lower stress hormones, and improve immune function.
Many Eastern medicine-based herbal remedies are also recognized as an accepted integrative approach to patients diagnosed with cancer, so incorporating this as a prevention method may be helpful for your overall health and for boosting your immunity. You may be surprised to find that many are spices that are already in your pantry!
[Read: “Balance & Boost: 4 Ayurvedic Herbs for Immunity.”]
Find a local naturopath and talk to your doctor before incorporating any kind of medicinal treatment, even those considered natural. The most common whole medical systems that are coming to be accepted in the integrative approach to cancer are naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and homeopathy.
The list of common spices below comes from Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects in the chapter titled “Herbs and Spices in Cancer Prevention and Treatment.” As stated in the conclusion, there is evidence that spices may lower cancer risk or affect tumor behavior.
10 General Tips to Cancer Prevention
While each cancer type has its own recommended techniques for prevention, here are 10 general tips to help you better lead this preventative lifestyle.
- Stop smoking
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Consuming safe and clean water
- Avoid exposure to radiation as well as harmful chemicals
- Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes per day
- Take a daily multivitamin
- Limit your red and processed meats
- Ask your doctor about getting screened (if applicable for cancer type)
Continue your consideration of cancer prevention with: “Do Eyeshades Protect Against Obesity and Cancer?”