Families, doctors, nurses, patients, people all:
Everyone knows someone with cancer. Cancer is unfortunately inevitable unless something else gets you first. It may sound awful to talk that way but because of what cancer is - essentially the unchecked growth of progressively more abnormal cells - and the fact that our cell's replicating machinery gets a little wonky as it wears out over time, the older we are the more likely we are to develop cancers.
Cancer is horrible. It devastates happiness, bodies, minds, families, plans, and dreams. We want to do everything possible to treat it and prevent it. Although I've written a lot about the futility of aggressive care in the end of life, the harms of delaying a palliative approach, and our misplaced trust in screening (which often harms more than it helps: PSAs or mammograms, for example), I also advocate strongly for patient access to the things that do work.
There are things you can do to lower your risks, robustly backed by the evidence:
- Avoid smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Stay away from environmental/industrial carcinogens like asbestos, radon, and benzene
- Reduce radiation exposure by avoiding unnecessary medical imaging tests
- Avoid excesses of alcohol
- Wear sunscreen
- Consider a pap test
- Only take supplemental hormones if medically required
- Get other 'screening' tests eg. colonscopy if you are a high-risk patient (eg. an immediate relation was diagnosed with colon cancer)
There is a great summary of some specific examples of dietary items in the "Summary of global evidence on cancer prevention" from the World Cancer Research Fund International.
As much as we want them to work, natural supplements, diets, 'miracle' clinics overseas, and homeopathy just don't.
Billions of dollars are made in scaring people into taking 'natural' remedies that are meant to prevent or treat cancer. Let me tell you: if these remedies were effective, they would be patented, put into pill form, and your family physician would be nagging you to take them. Heck, we might even lobby the government to put cancer-preventing agents in the drinking water! And if there was such thing as a miracle clinic, curing cancer constantly, well I would like to work there because that sounds amazingly rewarding.
Sadly, despite our dearest hopes, turmeric and elimination diets, cannabis oil, black fungus like that growing at Chernobyl (Fox News), and a whole host of other things continue to be proven useless at preventing or treating cancer. Most of these 'remedies' are harmless, but some have real side effects and none of them help the wallet.
In fact, while people are wasting their time, money, and hope on these snake oils, they are depriving themselves of the opportunity to focus on what matters:
- Eating whatever you want
- to try to slow the process of weight loss from cancer and to enjoy life because food = joy for many
- Using money to enjoy experiences that are important to you
- visiting family, ticking items off the bucket list... one incredible patient I met shocked his family and had an incredible time by skydiving for the first time after age 70 (despite cancer with metastases to bone!)
- Focusing on treatments that have been shown to be effective through scientific study
- Working through the difficult task of coming to terms with having cancer, whether treatable or not
- Receiving palliative care (which improves quality of life and can actually extend life!)
Optimism is not wrong - optimistic people probably live longer. If you trust that (scientific) statement, then you should also trust that the optimism should be directed towards scientifically-backed things that work.
Learn more about Tackling cancer treatment myths, from clean eating to cannabis