What We Can Control

By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC

There are so many things in this life that are out of our control – the weather, other drivers on the road, what our kids do when they leave the nest. Even many cancers are out of our control. Genetic and environmental factors such as different forms of pollution and past exposure to asbestos haunt people years and years down the road. Failures in tumor suppressor genes such as the BRCA genes cause aggressive breast and ovarian cancers.  These things we can’t control (or can control very little). Fortunately, there are a lot of things that we can control.

We’ve known for years that smoking is the #1 risk factor for cancer.  We know that excessive alcohol intake can cause cirrhosis, liver, and stomach cancers. We know that yearly mammograms and well-woman exams, and prostate exams save lives. These are things that we can control.  Beyond that – what is there?  A lot actually.

A study released last month by Tufts University reveals that diet may have been a factor in 80,110 new cases of invasive cancers that were diagnosed in the US in 2015 alone.  For a bit of perspective – that is 5.2% of all cases diagnosed that year.  Science Daily tells us that this compares to the cancer burden of 4-6% produced by alcohol consumption.  Other statistics show that obesity is responsible for 7-8% of cancers, with a sedentary lifestyle attributable to 2-3%.

Think about that – roughly 18 to 22 percent of invasive cancers diagnosed in 2015 were in someway under our control.

Before anyone gets mad – I am not saying in any way – that cancer is your fault. A person that never consumed a single alcoholic beverage can still get liver cancer, and a vegetarian that never ate red meat can get colon cancer.  But, the addition of these factors can increase the risk of developing these diseases. What I want to get across is that we do have power!

What is interesting in this study is the confirmation of dietary risk factors for cancers, as well as quantifying the number of cases in which they were implicated.  The cancers associated with poor dietary choices include colorectal cancer; cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx; uterine cancer, post-menopausal breast cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, and liver cancer.  38.3% of colorectal cancer diagnoses in 2015 were associated with poor diets, and 25.9% of oropharyngeal cancers had a similar link.  Those numbers are huge!

So, when I say “poor diet,” what do I mean?  The authors of this study mention the following points: high consumption of processed meats (think hot dogs and canned meats) and red meats, low consumption of quality dairy, whole grains, fruits and veggies, and overconsumption of sugary beverages.  Basically, everything they told us in high school health class applies here.

Does this mean I’m never going to have a steak again?  Heck no! My southern girl’s heart shudders at the mere thought! What we need to focus on here is moderating those risk factors of over-consumption.  Work to cut back on those sodas, make the steak a special occasion meal, look for hotdogs that don’t contain nasty fillers and chemicals (they are out there, I assure you). And yes, eat your broccoli!

Do I really have to eat my broccoli?

You don’t have to, but it is seriously good for you.  Mom was right.

Right in line with the study out of Tufts, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have found a chemical in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, etc.) that is a cancer killer.  Brace yourselves – I’m about to get nerdy.

I’ve talked a lot about tumor suppressor genes in past articles and how cancers are often caused by their failure.  One of the most well-known and studied of these tumor suppressors is a gene known as PTEN.  What has been found is that another gene, known as WWP1, can suppress or inactivate PTEN.  Think of it as a double negative in English class.  While WWP1 doesn’t directly cause cancer, it inhibits the inhibitor, enabling cancer growth.  The researchers at Beth Israel found that by targeting WWP1 with a chemical found in broccoli, they can inactivate WWP1, thereby giving the PTEN suppressor gene a boost!

While this finding is amazing, don’t switch to an all kale diet just yet.  According to the first author of the study, Yu-Ru Lee, Ph.D., “…you’d have to eat nearly 6 pounds of Brussels sprouts a day – and uncooked at that – to reap the potential anti-cancer benefit.”  Not exactly doable.  But, these findings provide great hope for future therapies by finding a naturally occurring molecule that has potent anti-cancer effects.

So, while you won’t likely be able to eat enough cruciferous veggies to silence WWP1 on your own, increasing your veggie intake is always good for you – provided it’s not deep-fried and drowned in cream gravy….

Do you have a favorite healthy recipe?  Lean meats, veggies, whole grains? Share it with us below, and help us fight cancer before it begins!

As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!

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