Health is interconnected with all dimensions of being. Daily habits shape a person’s state of well-being, along with life circumstances, and other factors such as family medical history.
Thus, even though lifestyle cannot, by itself, determine cancer risk, it certainly has a significant impact not only on the probability of occurrence but also on how one copes with it.
Among the more than 100 types of cancer, there are preventable cancers. In addition to healthy day-to-day practices, early detection screening tests and vaccinations have proven to be powerful tools.
For example, scientific research shows a close relationship between diet and reduced risk of some types of cancer such as breast cancer. Continually, more studies are being developed that associate dietary patterns with cancer incidence and disease management.
This is the case of a study from the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, published in 2018, which links a high consumption of fruits and vegetables with a lower risk of breast cancer, particularly more aggressive tumors such as ER. negative, HER2 and basal type tumors.
“Previous work by this research group linked reduced breast cancer risk with increased fiber intake, but the benefits of fruits and vegetables found in this study appear to be independent of their fiber content, the researchers say.” , declared the institution in a press release.
In Puerto Rico, breast cancer occupies the number one position in women, prostate cancer in men, and colorectal cancer in both. “Depending on the type of cancer and the place of origin, we have been able to be successful in developing strategies,” said Dr. Lourdes Feliciano López, medical director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of Puerto Rico (CCCUPR).
Key elements for prevention
While there are factors that you can’t control, such as age, family history, and unintentional exposure to certain carcinogens in the environment, there are others that are considered avoidable.
For this reason, the oncologist hematologist also shared the general considerations regarding prevention. These include: not using tobacco, eating healthy and limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a proper weight, engaging in daily physical activity, protecting yourself from sun exposure, as well as periodic medical follow-up and vaccination.
Regarding the use of tobacco, the specialist clarified that it does not refer exclusively to not smoking it, but to other related practices such as chewing it. Similarly, people who do not smoke but are exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke can also develop cancer.
“Smoke from cigarettes, pipes, or cigars that other people smoke (secondary smoke) also causes lung cancer. When a person breathes secondhand smoke it is as if they were smoking ”, exposes the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for its acronym in English).
Although the effects of electronic cigarettes are still being studied, it has been determined that the aerosol they produce may contain harmful substances. “Yes, there is an increase in the risk of inflammatory lung disease,” said the expert about the impact of the use of these cigarettes.
On the other hand, Dr. Feliciano López clarified that “sugars do not directly increase the probability of cancer, but being overweight is a risk factor for many types of cancer.”
Thus, diet and physical activity become very relevant aspects for prevention. Although it has not been possible to specify the relationship between exercise and the reduction of risk in certain types of cancer, a causal connection has been determined in others such as breast and colon cancer, to give just two examples.
Regarding this issue, the interviewee recommended at least 30 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise daily. Thus, as a preventive measure, the doctor indicated that exercising contributes to a faster and more successful recovery in people who are being treated for the disease.
Other recommendations to reduce the risk of cancer include: daily use of sunscreen with a protection factor of no less than 30 and avoiding harmful activities such as high-risk sexual practices and sharing needles.
“HIV is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV does not cause cancer itself, but HIV infection weakens the immune system and makes the body less able to fight other cancer-causing infections,” explains the National Cancer Institute (NCI). .
Also, human papillomaviruses (HPV)—which are spread by direct sexual contact, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex—can cause different types of cancer, including cervical, oropharyngeal, vaginal, vulvar, and penile.
Regarding early detection tests, the specialist emphasized the importance of self-examination in the case of breast cancer. “Being familiar with how your breasts look and feel to the touch can help you notice symptoms such as lumps, pain, or changes in size that may cause concern,” the CDC says.
In turn, mammography is considered the best method to detect breast cancer in its early stages.
On the other hand, cervix or cervical cancer is detected through the Papanicolaou test, which identifies changes in the cells of the cervix, and the HPV test.
If we refer to colorectal cancer, the most recommended tests are colonoscopy and stool. According to the CDC, low-dose computed tomography is performed to screen for lung cancer—especially aimed at people who smoke or have a 20-pack-year history of cigarette smoking (one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for ten years).
Regarding vaccination, Dr. Feliciano López indicated that, so far, there are two vaccines approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration: one against HPV and another against hepatitis B, a virus that causes liver disease and in its chronic phase it can cause cancer.
Regarding the relevance of prevention measures, the doctor mentioned a study published in 2018 in which she showed the association between high-risk anal HPV infection and anal squamous intraepithelial lesions. Through this study, CCCUPR researchers highlight that the findings support the value of screening tests and the optimization of HPV vaccination strategies.
Talk to your specialist about prevention strategies: healthy habits, vaccination and detection tests.
Accede al estudio “Human Papillomavirus Correlates With Histologic Anal High-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesions in Hispanics With HIV” en https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29975333/.
For more information on cancer prevention strategies, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/ y https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention.