Cancer Myth: Can cancer really be prevented?

There is no one rule book to follow to stay guarded from cancer. What can cause cancer in one person, may not cause cancer in another.
Cancer Causes and Prevention
Cancer Causes and Prevention
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We have always believed that prevention is better than cure, and in our minds that applies to cancer too. With the way cancer and its treatment is portrayed in movies and TV shows, one looks for any way possible to avoid getting cancer.

“Tips” to “avoid cancer” are everywhere. From concerned mothers to research-backed studies, we get these from many sources. In some cases, one tip is even advised against another. There's a lot of confusion on how cancer can be prevented. In this article, we try to explore the myths, and explain the facts, about cancer prevention.

“There is no one rule book to follow to stay guarded from cancer. What can cause cancer in one person, may not cause cancer in another,” says Dr. AN Vaidhyswaran, Director and Senior Consultant, Radiation Oncologist, Kauvery Cancer Institute, Alwarpet, Chennai.

“We can agree that the first step to preventing any condition from happening is staying away from the causes. So, the natural first question is, what can cause cancer?,” asks Dr. AN Vaidhyswaran. Let’s look at some of the factors.

Extrinsic Factors

  • - Tobacco
  • - Alcohol
  • - Processed foods
  • - Obesity and lack of exercise
  • - Exposure to radiation
  • - Exposure to carcinogenic chemicals
  • - UV rays
  • - Certain Viruses and infections

Intrinsic Factors

Aging and genetic factors are unavoidable causes that can put anyone at risk. “Someone who has a healthy lifestyle can still get cancer if they have a DNA that predisposes them to the condition.”

Cancer is an anomaly in the way our cells divide and multiply. The possession of this DNA can cause that even in a fully healthy human being with no bad lifestyle habits.

The causes can be better understood as a Venn Diagram, which has extrinsic and intrinsic causes, and an intersection of both. What we can understand from this, unfortunately, is that anyone is prone to getting cancer.

Reality check

If it is possible for anyone to get cancer, should people then live in a constant state of fear and worry? “It is safe to be precautious, but leading a healthy life reduces the risks of getting cancer by a big margin,” says Dr. AN Vaidhyswaran.

Lifestyle causes of cancer can be avoided by living healthy. Not smoking and drinking, having a healthy and balanced diet, and exercising regularly improve our overall health, and can provide some protection against cancer too.

Cancers that are caused by viruses can be avoided by vaccination. For example, the HPVs or Human papillomaviruses are the most common cause of cervical cancer. Practicing good hygienes, safe sex and getting the HPV vaccine will be an effective way to prevent cancer.

In the case of intrincing factors, screening can help detect genetic mutations or early signs and begin the treatment in earlier stages, making it non-life-threatening. For example, women who have had a family history of breast cancer can get tested if they have the BRCA gene mutation which increases the risk factor. Similarly, Colorectal gene testing can be done to screen for colon cancer.

Cancer and age

The biology of aging is also a cause that can’t be ignored. As we get older, the cells in our bodies are expected to not divide and multiply as they did when we were young. But this mechanism is also prone to failing causing the cells to grow uncontrollably. “I recommend that everyone above the age of 40 gets screened regularly for cancers and other health conditions,” says Dr. AN Vaidhyswaran.

Cancer screening can be done through mammograms, blood tests, X-rays or scans, hormone tests etc.

There is no way to completely avoid cancer, there is no need to be in a state of constant worry about that either. Prevention is indeed better than cure, but in cancer’s case, healthy habits, screening, early detection and treatment, is the best we can do.

This article has been published in association with Kauvery Hospital.

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