Sunday, June 5, 2011

Preface- Cancer Causes and Controversies (understanding preventable risk factors

Cancer—its name alone can produce dread and hopelessness in those who receive its diagnosis. Yet what we call cancer is really a collection of more than 100 different diseases—each with its own specific origin and prognosis. Although a century of intense biomedical research has yielded tremendous breakthroughs, including the discovery of chemopreventive drugs (anticancer) to treat cancer patients, these diseases remain largely incurable.

The scientific community has learned it is contending with a complex and formidable foe. We now know that cancer at the cellular level is a genetic disease, while external and internal conditions that damage DNA can also promote cancer. Another significant factor that influences susceptibility to cancer is a person’s genetic inheritance. In some families, a genetic predisposition puts family members at a high risk for particular cancers.

Lifestyle choices can have a tremendous influence on individual cancer risk—in beneficial or detrimental ways. Smokers boost their chances for lung cancer, while those who excessively drink alcohol raise their risk for esophageal cancer. Diet plays a major role in a person’s cancer risk. For example, it’s thought that diet is in part responsible for the very low rates of prostate cancer among Asian men in their native countries, because second- and third-generation Asian Americans who have adopted the Western diet have a higher incidence of prostate cancer, close or equal to that of Caucasians.

And body fat matters. People who are overweight amplify their risks for colorectal and pancreatic cancers, while those who maintain a healthy, constant body weight and exercise regularly reduce their cancer risks. But in spite of what is known about cancer risk factors, cancer susceptibility can vary greatly on an individual level. For example, some people smoke all their lives and do not develop lung cancer—while some nonsmokers do.

An explanation may be found in the small variations in an individual’s DNA sequence known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). SNPs can affect metabolism positively, such as by enhancing the removal of DNA-damaging toxins in the body, or negatively, by weakening the ability to accomplish such a task. These genetic variants can also influence a person’s response to medical treatment. Immune system and stress level, as well as spiritual wellness, can also affect a person’s susceptibility to cancer.

The good news is that cancer incidence and mortality rates have declined in recent years, mainly due to improved preventive measures. Refrigeration is credited for the drop in stomach cancer, while increasing public awareness about the dangers of smoking is thought to have decreased cases of lung cancer. Declines in colorectal, cervical, prostate, and breast cancer mortality reflect the effect of improved screening, leading to early detection and diagnosis. Thus information about cancer prevention has turned out to be one of the more effective tools to fight this disease and lighten society’s cancer burden.

Healthier lifestyle choices such as exercising, eating well, and not smoking or drinking alcohol excessively, as well as avoiding occupational exposure to toxins and infection, are some of the keys to success. This book’s goal is twofold: to inform the reader about the various risk factors associated with cancer and how to avoid more than 90 percent of the causes of cancer.

This book is divided into 2 parts: Part I describes the risk factors associated with 16 commonly known cancers- including breast, ovarian, cervical, head & neck, brain, leukemia, liver, lung, prostate, esophageal and skin cancer. Part II describes behaviors and controversies surrounding cancer; topics discussed include nutrition, body weight, and the immune system and their association with cancer. The book also talks about controversies surrounding cancer screening and benefits, diet and dietary supplements and controversies regarding commonly perceived risk factors.

       Excerpt from my book Cancer Causes & Controversies (understanding preventable risk factors)

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