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Cancer: Causes and Prevention

   |  Updated: April 18, 2017 16:33 IST

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Cancer: Causes and Prevention

World Cancer Day' is celebrated annually on 4th of February to deepen our understanding of this killer disease. There has been enough research to validate that food acts as the most promising ammunition to fight the battle against cancer. We bring to you six common queries that are addressed by Dr Ashutosh Gautam, Clinical Operations and Coordination Manager, Baidyanath.



1) What is the most common cause of cancer?



Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells. There are around 100 types of cancer. The most common types of cancer are -  Men: Lung, esophagus, stomach, oral and pharyngeal cancers. Women: Cervix and breast cancers.



Cancer has many possible causes, the prominent ones being -

  • Genetics: Certain cancers run in families. For example, certain mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes greatly increase a person's risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking accounts for around 30% of all cancer deaths. It is linked with increased risk of these cancers - lungs, larynx, oral cavity, nose and sinuses, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidney, bladder, ovary, colon, rectum and acute myeloid leukemia. Chewing of tobacco, a carcinogen, is linked to dental caries, gingivitis, oral leukoplakia, and oral cancer.

  • Diet and Lifestyle: Research shows that a poor diet and not having an active lifestyle are the key factors that can increase a person's risk of developing cancer. 

Three things to keep in mind in order to stay cancer free:



- Get to and stay at a healthy weight throughout your life.



- Be physically active on a regular basis.



- Make healthy food choices with a focus on plant-based foods.



2) What are the foods that up the risk of developing cancer?



Some cancers like that of the stomach have a more direct relationship with food. Foods which should be consumed in moderation to avoid the incidence of cancer are  -

  • Processed meats such as bacon, sausages, lunch meats and hot dogs.

  • Choose fish, poultry, or beans instead of red meat (beef, pork, and lamb).

  • If you eat red meat, choose lean cuts and eat smaller portions.

  • Prepare meat, poultry, and fish by baking, broiling, or poaching rather than by frying or charbroiling.

3) What are the preventive foods that guard against cancer?



In accordance with the most common types of cancers that our country suffers from, the following foods can help:



Oral Cancer: A diet rich in green and yellow vegetables and proper oral hygiene has been shown to offer protection against oral cancer.



Breast Cancer: Reduction of high calorie foods, increased intake of fruits and vegetables and regular physical activity is preventive.



Lung Cancer: Avoid tobacco and stay free from environmental pollutants. Increase intake of vegetables, fruits and beta carotene.



Stomach Cancer:Diets high in fruits and vegetables particularly raw vegetables, citrus fruits, and possibly allium vegetables (onions, leeks, garlic etc.), foods with high levels of carotenoid, high vitamin C intake and consumption of green tea helps prevent stomach cancers.



4) What foods help in healing cancer and how?



Good nutrition is a key to good health. Foods which are rich in Vitamin C, Beta-carotene and Lycopene are known to protect DNA from damages.



5) Do all chemicals, preservatives and additives in foods cause cancer?



Additives serve a wide variety of uses. For example, preservatives protect foods against deterioration and prevent growth of fungi and bacteria. Other additives help improve the texture and consistency of foods, keep them flowing freely when poured, or prevent them from drying out. Flavourings restore taste losses or can enhance the flavour or aroma of food. Emulsifiers ensure that oil and water in foods do not separate.



Some commonly used preservatives which are doubted to have a relation with cancer are - Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrite.



Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a phenolic antioxidant which prevents rancidity of fats and oils in food by protecting against lipid oxidation. High levels of BHA is found to create stomach tumor in laboratory animals.



 Some other chemicals which are found in canned foods and are known to perpetrate cancer are -

  • Bisphenol A(BPA) can be found in reusable plastic food containers and the lining of food and beverage cans. Research shows that BPA exposure is linked to breast cancer, and has been shown to interfere with chemotherapy treatment for the disease.

  • Phthalates can be found in some plastic food containers and are considered as endocrine disruptors. Phthalate exposure has been linked to early puberty in girls, a risk factor for later-life breast cancer.

  • Some pesticides and herbicides used on foods we eat have been labeled as human or animal carcinogens.

  • Zeranol: Commonly found in the beef industry processing, it mimics an estrogen like action in the body and has been found carcinogenic in laboratory animals. This chemical is banned by the European Union.

  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is used to produce food packaging. It was one of the first chemicals designated as known human carcinogen and has been linked to increased mortality from breast cancer and liver cancer among workers involved in its manufacture.

6) A lot is being talked about the Mediterranean diet and its anti-cancer properties. How helpful is the diet?



The Mediterranean diet got popular in 1990's for its protective qualities against heart ailments. Later it was found to be effective for other lifestyle disorders and cancer. Instead of accepting all the dishes that are offered in the name of a Mediterranean diet we should look for some basic concepts for which this cuisine is revered. These are - good to control weight gain, bad cholesterol and blood sugar.



A typical Mediterranean diet includes - abundant plant foods, fresh fruits, olive oil, cereals, wine, moderate consumption of fish, poultry and low amounts of red meat.



The main benefit of this type of a diet is that it reduces inflammatory changes and oxidative stress in the body. By reducing inflammatory changes and delaying the age related changes in body it increases longevity and improves health. At least 7 types of cancers are related to obesity and in that context a Mediterranean diet helps to maintain a healthy glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity.



The biological mechanisms for cancer prevention associated with the Mediterranean diet have been related to the favourable effect of a balanced ratio of omega 6 and omega 3, essential fatty acids and high amounts of fibre, antioxidants and polyphenols found in fruits, vegetables, olive oil and wine.



7) Five tips that you recommend one should follow for a healthy lifestyle.

  • Include fibers in your diet for healthy bowel movements. Regular bowels are important for detoxification.

  • Regular exercise is most important to boost immunity and avoid metabolic disorders like diabetes, hyper cholesterol, obesity, thyroid, hypertension etc. Yoga, paranyam are good for reducing stress, improving flexibility and correcting posture.

  • Nuts provides a good source of energy and other nutrients which are helpful. They help in the reduction and maintainence of weight. Nuts are advisable for controlling bad cholesterol. Nuts like walnut, almonds and pistachios are good for diabetics, hypercholesterolemia.

  • Intake of fruits and vegetables provides necessary antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. These help to neutralize the oxidative stress in the body and avoid damages to DNA, ageing.

  • Regular detox through green and herbal teas helps to maintain the balance in the body. Spa and Ayurveda therapies like body massages, shirodhara, chooran svedanam help to relax the body and mind. Lymphatic drainage therapy is also helpful to cleanse channels and get rid of toxins from the lymphatic system.

About Dr Ashutosh Gautam



He is currently working as a manager of clinical operations and coordination in Baidyanath. He is an ayurveda scholar with particular interest in spreading awareness about diet (Ahar) & Dincharya (routine) on one's health.



He gives lifestyle consultations in Manta Vedic Spa. His specialization is diet consultation according to ayurvedic principles of Parkruti (basic constitution of person), Nadi Parikashan (pulse examination).



He is also involved in the introduction of new products & development in the organization and holding CME (continue medical education) for doctors about latest advances in the field of Ayurveda.



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