Cancer is an enormous health problem from a perspective of the loss of life, loss of quality of life, and financial burden on the healthcare system. It was estimated that in 2005 149 000 new cancer cases would be diagnosed in Canada, and 69 500 deaths would occur. Multiply those numbers by about 10 for the US. That’s huge. Everybody knows it’s a problem, and for the past 30 years scientists have been devoting their lives and billions of dollars of research grants to the search for effective treatments. A noble cause, indeed.
But then we come to the realization that 30–40% of cancers are PREVENTABLE. What?! Cancer? I thought that it was one of those things that just appeared in your body, and you couldn’t do anything about it? Yes, that’s partly true. There are genes which, when activated or altered in some way, predispose you to cancer. And some cancers have no known cause. There’s a lot that we still don’t know about cancer. I’m not talking about those cases, nor am I castigating those who have died or been diagnosed with cancer because I think that they failed to do something to prevent their disease. That’s not the case at all; I just want to throw this information out there as something we all need to consider as we make lifestyle choices.
Cancer prevention. Sounds pretty tough, right? What, do you have to get some sort of shot every week, or have prophylactic radiation or chemotherapy to prevent yourself from cancer? No. What is required is merely this: don’t smoke, be physically active and maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet, don’t drink too much, and don’t spend too much time in the sun. Sounds like a recipe for preventing…well, most diseases. Yeah, and cancer is one of them.
These are such simple, simple things. They’re things we should be doing already, not just with cancer in mind, but just to live a healthy lifestyle. If we do, look at the cancers we can be protected from:
Unbelievable. Those are ALL the top cancers, whether by incidence or mortality rates. Can you imagine – if we just ate well, didn’t get fat, didn’t smoke and didn’t get burned all the time, so many diseases could be prevented! It’s not just cancer. The number one cause of death in Canada and the US is cardiovascular disease, then cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a little bit farther down is diabetes. ALL of these diseases could be prevented (at least in part) by the preventive strategies of just living an overall healthy lifestyle. It’s not some obscure magic cure. It’s what your mother has always told you: eat your vegetables.
So, okay, eat your vegetables. We all know we should. But are we? …Not so much.
Fruits and vegetables five times a day. That’s a combination of the two groups, so say…a banana with breakfast, apple at lunch, two servings of carrots at dinner and a potato. Sounds pretty reasonable. But the Canadian average is 62% of people don’t even get 5 servings! And the dark blue parts of the country represent areas where even more than 62% are getting less than 5 servings a day. Unbelievable. This is such a simple thing to do!
What about maintaining a healthy weight? Almost 50% of Canadians are at LEAST overweight, and 15% are obese. That’s 65% with weight problems.
Kids: 37% overweight, 18% obese. 55% total with weight problems. Little KIDS! What in the world are we feeding these guys??
Smoking – 21% of Canadians smoke. 28% of Canadians are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Smoking alone accounts for 30% of ALL cancer incidences and deaths!
How stupid are we? Why aren’t we doing this stuff? Why can’t we get it through our stupid thick skulls that if we eat properly, exercise, and stay away from smoke, too much alcohol and sun, we’ll be healthy? We’ll live longer, have a higher quality of life, spare family and friends from emotional trauma, AND we’ll help our country’s economy out by not taxing the healthcare system. It would also free up researchers to turn their efforts to the million other diseases which aren’t as preventable, like Type 1 diabetes, for example (I ❤ you, Karl!). Man. It’s so frustrating. People shouldn’t have to deal with (or die from) things like Type 2 diabetes or atherosclerosis – or these preventable cancers. We should be focusing on prevention, not treatment.
That’s my science rant for the night. Be healthy! EAT YOUR VEGETABLES.