Primary Prevention of Cancer
1. Cigarette smoking: Smoking causes almost all cases of lung cancer and accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths. Prevention strategy for this risk factor is to quit smoking. For non-smokers, the prevention strategy is to avoid second and third hand smoke. No form of smokeless tobacco should be considered as a safe substitute for smoking.
2. Excess body weight: Being overweight or obese is one of the most important risk factors for a number of cancers such as bowel, breast, kidney, stomach, uterine etc. Prevention strategy for this risk factor is to maintain a healthy body weight (BMI 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2).
3. Drinking alcohol: Drinking alcohol is related to increased risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, colon and liver cancers. Even a little bit of alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing cancer. Prevention strategy for this risk factor is to avoid consumption of alcohol.
4. Eating red/processed meat and imbalanced diet: The intake of red or processed meat should be limited to small quantity. Diet low in dietary fiber and calcium as well as sugary drinks and processed foods should be avoided as far as possible. As an effective prevention strategy, focus should be on eating more of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, and pulses such as beans.
5. Physical inactivity: About one third of fatal cancer cases could be prevented by better nutrition and physical activity. Adults should get moderate to vigorous activity for 30 to 45 minutes, 5 or more days a week. Children and adolescents should get moderate to vigorous physical activity for 60 minutes at least 5 days a week.
6. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun: This is responsible for almost 5% of cancer cases. Focus should be to keep out of the sun especially in the middle of the day and to wear protective clothing, sun glasses, hat and use of sunscreen creams/lotions.
7. Cancer-associated infections: A small portion of cancers are thought to be linked to infections. As an effective prevention strategy, focus should be to get vaccinated at right time and undergo regular organized screening.
8. Others: This includes occupational risk factors such as exposure to asbestos, heavy metals etc.; environmental risk factors such as arsenic contamination, aflatoxins in foods, indoor air pollution and immunosuppression. As an effective prevention strategy, focus should be to take precautionary measures to avoid these exposures.
The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is very relevant in context of cancer prevention and early detection. Having a cancer is nothing to be afraid of and by taking an active role in the screening, diagnosis and treatment of this aggressive disease a person can improve his/her chances of survival along with a better quality of life.
Dr. P. K. Julka MD, FAMS
Padma Shri Awardee
Sr. Director-Max Oncology Daycare Centre,
Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi (India)
Former Dean (Academics), AIIMS, New Delhi
New Delhi, India
Cancare Foundation is a non for profit organization aim to provide comprehensive guidance to cancer patients through education material, self-education and publications.
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