– Hi doc, I got a special request today.
– Hi Pascal! What request?
– Right now, I’m feeling tired. I have a bit of a sore throat. Sometimes, I have acute back pain, too. I wanted to do a complete checkup to see if I have cancer somewhere!
– What if this checkup shows nothing abnormal?
– That means I don’t have cancer, so I’ll feel relieved.
– It will just mean that the tests are negative with the possibility of “false negatives,” as in the Covid test!
– Is it the same problem for cancers, then?
– It’s not “a problem;” it’s like that with all tests: the margin of error. Nothing is perfect, not even medical tests! What I mean is that there is no miracle analysis where a negative test equals the absence of cancer.
– What should we do then, doc?
– That’s an excellent question, Pascal…
What is cancer?
Cancer is the direct translation of the evils of immortality!
The different cells in the human body are differentiated and organized according to their specific characteristics. A skin cell cannot ensure gas exchange, but it can provide our impermeability in stormy weather!
The cells that make us up have their own lifespan and boast some potent regenerative systems. Everyone has seen how skin heals itself after a scratch. But most of us also know that neurons (brain cells) cannot regenerate!
This programmed cell death is called apoptosis. The process is normal and even beneficial for your body’s optimal functioning.
Remember that your body is a coordinated system that meets established standards where each piece fits perfectly in its intended location.
BUT this formidable machine that is our body may sometimes derail a little. Or rather, we are derailing it (we will discuss this later). At this point, abnormal cells may appear.
What are we talking about here?
The medical terms abound throughout the media. People are bombarded with concepts like tumor, mass, cancer, benign, malignant, etc. These words may seem esoteric to laypeople and, therefore, deserve brief explanations:
- Tumor: From the Latin “tumere,” designates in medicine an increase in tissue volume without specifying the cause.
- Mass: Synonymous with “tumor.”
- Benign: No severe consequences.
- Malignant: Said of a serious illness/a tumor that can become generalized and lead to death.
- Cancer: Malignant tumor caused by unchecked cell multiplication.
The cancerous cell, the fundamental element of a malignant tumor, has its own characteristics:
- It has a specific and anarchic differentiation.
- It is “autonomous” because it creates its own environment at the organism’s expense.
- It loses programmed apoptosis and, in fact, is “virtually” immortal.
- It has rapid and almost unlimited growth.
- It goes beyond the body’s existing defense systems.
What is so bad?
Cancer is a conglomeration of anarchic cells developing rapidly inside a healthy organ by progressively deteriorating it.
Cancer can extend beyond the organ it invades. In this case, we speak of the infamous “metastases” which aggravate the lesion.
Because of its characteristics, the cancerous cell constantly proliferates and gradually invades the healthy organs. As a result, these organs cannot perform their physiological functions as well as before.
Therefore, the body’s primary functions become defective because they no longer allow optimal activity. This situation has serious consequences.
There are different cancers with specific consequences and treatments that I will not discuss here. You understand that this is a specialized field.
There are many risk factors, too.
For example, a family history of cancers calls for caution with well-established screening protocols! These are non-avoidable risk factors over which you have no control. The most important thing lies elsewhere…
But there is good news.
Let’s start with some numbers:
10% of cancers are linked to genetic risk, while over 40% are directly related to your lifestyle!
40% of cancers are preventable by changing your habits!!!
Isn’t that “super” good news?
This infographic shows that not all risk factors have the same impact on cancer development.
This fact allows us to prioritize excellent habits to improve our health.
Thus, we can easily understand our biases and appetence for controversy. For example, we prefer to discuss the risk of endocrine disruptors on health instead of focusing on the recognized risk of smoking!
To reduce the overall risk of cancer, we can:
1. Quit smoking.
- Impact: Almost all cancers
- Smoking causes different cancers, not just lung cancer.
- It is by far the most prominent risk factor.
- Tobacco smoke contains over 7000 chemical compounds, most of which are carcinogenic.
- It also increases overall cardiovascular risk.
2. Exercise regularly.
- Impact: Breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and lung cancer
- You just need 30 minutes a day.
- It’s fun and rewarding.
- You can adapt it to any physical condition and age.
3. Lose weight.
- Impact: Colon cancer, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer (uterus)
- Weight loss reduces the risk of carcinogenesis (formation of cancer).
- Weight gain accelerates the production of inflammatory molecules.
- These inflammatory molecules create mutations, promoting cancer occurrence.
- Shedding pounds means improving your future health.
4. Eat healthily.
- Impact: Breast cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer, and pancreatic cancer
- Eat as many vegetables, legumes, and fruits as you like.
- Choose whole grains.
- Cook your meals using unprocessed “raw” products.
- Eat seasonal products instead of frozen ones.
- Limit salt intake.
- Reduce red meat consumption:
- It’s low in Omega 3.
- It’s high in calories.
- Better alternatives include fish and poultry.
5. Protect yourself from the sun.
- Impact: Skin cancer
- Skin cancer is directly linked to UV exposure.
- Avoid getting sunburns.
- Avoid sun exposure during the hottest hours of the day.
- Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30.
- Avoid tanning booths.
6. Limit alcohol consumption.
- Impact: Mouth cancer, throat cancer, and breast cancer.
- The maximum allowed limit is ten glasses per week.
- You should have at least two days with zero alcohol consumption during the week.
- Remember: Using tobacco and alcohol together is exceptionally harmful.
7. Sleep better and enough.
- Impact: Breast cancer.
- Staggered hours in certain professions are linked to a greater risk of cancer (e.g., nurses, flight attendants).
- Quality sleep improves overall health.
- According to current research, the optimal sleep duration depends on each person, but less than 7 hours per night is harmful.
8. Fight against pollution.
- Impact: Lung cancer, bladder cancer, and blood cancer (leukemia)
- Many types of pollution have harmful effects on health, with different consequences.
- Air pollution is highly detrimental as it affects millions of people worldwide.
- Pollution is a significant public health issue concerning different actors: politicians, industrialists, farmers, etc.
- Indoor air is ten times more polluted than outdoor air.
- Indoor air contains particles, glues, allergens, dust mites, cigarette smoke, etc.
- If you only have to do one thing, it’s airing your house regularly.
9. Manage stress.
- Global but low impact
- Stress management strategies abound, so you can choose the right one for your needs.
- It’s up to you to find the technique that suits you best:
- Meditation (mindfulness or not)
- Deep breathing
- The direct impact of stress reduction on overall health is more important than the stress management technique you choose.
10. HPV vaccination
- Impact: Cervical cancer
- Human Papilloma Virus is a sexually transmitted infectious agent.
- It causes lesions with a high risk of becoming cancerous.
- HPV vaccination can virtually eradicate cervical cancer.
- To this end, optimal vaccination coverage is mandatory.
- Sex education needs to be improved in many countries.
- Sexually active people should use condoms for their safety, not just against contraception.
- The equation is simple: no HPV infection = almost no risk of cervical cancer.
After discussing these preventive measures, I would like to emphasize the vital importance of screening. Several public health strategies worldwide promote screening for certain cancers. These tests allow early diagnosis and customized treatment.
The most successful analyses are:
- Diagnostic mammography to look for breast cancer
- Cervical smear for diagnosing cervical cancer
- Searching for stool blood to detect a possible colorectal lesion
- The annual dermatological consultation for skin cancer for very fair-skinned people
There is no “miracle test” to discover all health issues.
Still, fate has no say in this matter either. The widespread belief that cancer is due to “bad luck” reflects the instinctive, illogical fear surrounding this pathology.
All the studies agree that we can avoid 40% of cancers by modifying our behaviors and lifestyle. We have the power!
Knowing this, what are you willing to do for your health?