GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) — We hear it all the time: “Don’t eat this” or “Don’t do that; it’ll cause cancer.” So which of those claims should we be most worried about?
According to the National Cancer Institute, 90-95 percent of cancers aren’t passed down from family members but are caused by gene mutations that happen during a person’s lifetime due to natural aging and exposure to environmental factors.
Bon Secours St. Francis oncologist and hematologist Dr. Robert Siegel says one of the biggest factors known to cause cancer is obesity.
“It’s thought that perhaps 30 percent of the cancers in the United States could be modified by chances in loss of diet and weight, largely because of some changes that obesity causes in the metabolism in the body and certain hormones,” he says.
To combat obesity, he recommends following the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes using herbs and spices rather than salt, eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, eating fish and poultry at least twice a week and replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil.
“That pattern of diet has clearly been associated with less cancer,” he says. One study claims that “Fruits and vegetables contain numerous components known to have favorable effects on inflammatory, cellular redox, as well as metabolic processes and endothelial function, which might add up to their tumor-protective impact… In addition, regular consumption of fruits and vegetables facilitates weight management in overweight subjects to counter obesity as a risk factor for cancer.”
Next on Dr. Siegel’s list of factors: smoking, which has been linked to lung, kidney and bladder cancer.
“The chemicals from the smoke do get into the bloodstream and do circulate into the blood stream, particularly in the bladder,” he says.
The 3rd factor is alcohol consumption, which he says women should limit to 1 serving per day, and for men, 2 servings per day, whether that’s one glass of wine, one shot of liquor or one pint of beer.
Alcohol and smoking have also been known to increase risk for cancer, especially when both are consumed moderately or heavily. “Alcohol and smoking interact clearly, particularly in tumors that evolve in the upper airway,” he says.
The 4th factor is viruses like the hepatitis and the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer) according to the CDC.
“Both of the hepatitis viruses cause liver cancers,” Dr. Siegel says. “The reason that’s important is we can vaccinate now.”
The 5th and 6th factors he lists are radiation treatments and chemical exposures, which include some chemotherapy medications.
“Certain members of certain types of chemotheraphy are potentially implicated in the development of leukemia,” Dr. Siegel says. He adds often this occurs years after radiation or chemotherapy treatment.
His 7th top factor is exposure to the sun.
“Even a handful of severe blistering burns without much exposure in between is a risk factor,” Dr. Siegel says. He stresses the importance of applying sunscreen when outdoors to reduce risk of melanoma and says the main thing people need to remember is to re-apply often. The Melanoma Research Foundation recommends using an SPF of 30 or higher, applying 15 minutes before sun exposure, even on cloudy days, and re-applying every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.
The National Cancer Institute lists a number of other factors that increase risk for cancer, including cigarette smoking, infections, radiation and immunosuppressive medicines after organ transplants as top cancer causing factors.
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To hear more from experts at Bon Secours on this health topic and others, listen every Saturday morning at 10am on 106.3 WORD radio.