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Cancer awareness: Understanding common causes to minimise its risk

Today, on World Cancer Day, here's listing out a few common reasons that can trigger the disease and what needs to be done to manage or prevent them

Many cancers are due to a faulty lifestyle, so a preventive approach where you adopt healthy practices is a good first step.(Unsplash/Angiola Harry)

By Luke Coutinho

LAST PUBLISHED 04.02.2024  |  08:46 AM IST

Is cancer avoidable? Yes. Isn't cancer genetic? A small fraction (5-6%) maybe. But the majority develop over time.  While one may think of exposure to carcinogens like smoking, pesticides and pollution as a legitimate cause to get cancer, it is not the only reason. If it were, everyone would be having cancer, because we all breathe the same air and consume the same food. But that's not the case; there is something beyond that too. 

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Cancer is a multifactorial disease, and so, the ways of approaching it needs to be multifactorial. No one food supplement or medicine can prevent cancer. Instead, a combination of several aspects - the food you eat, the environment around you, emotional well-being, quality of your sleep, the way you move, lifestyle history, medical history, your past, your present, and so much more.

Even science today documents that many cancers are due to a faulty lifestyle. Only a few are genetic, and even then, they could have been prevented if the environment (lifestyle) was right. We have all heard of epigenetics, a field that studies the effect of the environment (internal and external) on our genes. A bad lifestyle has the potential to turn on bad genes and turn off good genes, and the opposite is also true. 

If your family has a history of cancer, you should be motivated to take care of yourself. A genetic predisposition does not mean you will get cancer, but your chances increase if you create a suitable environment for bad genes to express themselves. It is called genetic expression. However, if we can take care of our lifestyle and risk factors, we have a high possibility of preventing the disease.

In my 13 years of practice in the field of integrative and lifestyle medicine, and handling cancer patients from across the world with different types of cancer—some rare, some common, some mild, some aggressive and metastatic, some first stage, and some advanced stage— a few stark commonalities stand out amongst all these cases. Reflecting on what these are, I realise that most of the patients could have prevented getting cancer if they had taken care of these aspects.  Taking it as lessons I've learnt from my real cases,  I share here some of those commonalities: 

Deep-seated emotions: When you look at cancer survivors, you will notice that they have gotten out of toxic relationships, worked on getting better sleep, eating healthy, getting more active, and most importantly, have changed their attitude towards life. The attitude of an individual and their outlook towards life are important in facing a major disease like cancer. It is necessary to learn to accept and let go of certain things. 

Stress can weaken your immune system. Avoid getting into “victim mode" and even if you are in one, work towards getting out of it to improve your quality of life. Keep yourself surrounded by positive people who encourage you and give you hope for a better, healthier, and longer life. Feelings of anger, hatred, forgiveness, and negativity are only going to make things worse. Research states that 61% of people with cancer have forgiveness issues. Now, this fact is not to scare anyone but to show how it is not worth holding grudges and resentments, and how sometimes our ego can come in the way of living a better life.

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Chronic constipation: Constipation is common but not normal. Every time you hold back poop into your colon, what do you end up doing? Your body holds on to toxic wastes that are meant to be evacuated. Chronic constipation is studied as a commonality in several cases ranging from headaches and migraines to cancers. Holding on to wastes that are meant to be evacuated from the body can also lead to certain gene mutations that can eventually lead to cancer. It can also cause excess hormones like estrogen to be reabsorbed back into our body leading to estrogen dominance, which is another trigger to several other conditions including hormone-dependent cancers.

Running on chronically low levels of vitamins D3 and B12: This is basic. Too many people today have critically low levels of D3 and B12 vitamins. Every second patient we consult is running on levels of 3, 5, or 10 that are dangerously low. It's almost like a silent epidemic. There is ample medical science that links vitamin D3 and B12 to mostly everything right from your immune system to hormonal as well as brain health. Whether you have PCOS, cancer, Alzheimer's, weak bones, low energy levels, any autoimmune condition, or are on heavy treatment - you need adequate levels of these two vitamins. Check your  D3 and B12 vitamin levels first and aim to increase them toward the higher range. A cumulative build-up of this deficiency can cause numerous problems, and just by upping the levels of these vitamins, you safeguard your health in many ways.

Poor metabolic health, type 2 diabetes, and insulin resistance: Cancer is a metabolic disease and having it points to a breakdown in your metabolism. Almost always, addressing high blood sugar levels and poor metabolic health is crucial in managing and preventing cancer. Many learn how to live with type 2 diabetes, thinking that they are taking meds, and the levels look good in their reports, but that does not address the issue. One must work on rectifying their lifestyle by working with their doctor to reduce medication and address the condition right from its roots because it is a high-risk factor for cancer.

Manifestation of cancer: Scary but real. Your thoughts and mind can play an important role in triggering the disease. With the way the world and cancer statistics continue to progress, it can be easy for fear to get the better of us; but this is also where using faith, belief, prayers – and even fear – as fuel to move you to action and focus on things you can control comes. Remember, someone else’s story does not have to be yours. There is power in believing that you are protected and safe. 

A breakdown of even one of the 5 fundamentals of the human body: There are 5 basic defense mechanisms everybody operates on. They are angiogenesis, stem cell regeneration, DNA health, a healthy and diverse gut microbiome, and a well-trained immune system. These form the blueprint of your health. A breakdown of any of these mechanisms can predispose one to many health challenges, not just one. So, in integrative and lifestyle medicine, we recognize this and build suitable lifestyle and nutrition protocols for an individual that focus on strengthening, building, and repairing the beautiful intelligence of our body. 

So, while there is something called destiny and none of us have control over that, there is a lot of power and control we hold over our lifestyle, and adopting a quality lifestyle increases the chances of preventing cancer.

Luke Coutinho is a Goa-based holistic lifestyle coach – integrative and lifestyle medicine and founder of YouCare – All about YOU.

Also read: How you can be a supportive ally to a cancer patient