The dreaded c-word rightly strikes fear into hearts across the globe.
Iconic figures such as Sir Terry Wogan, David Bowie and Alan Rickman have been lost so far this year after long, often very private battles with cancer.
Want to prevent cancer? From taking an aspirin to eating yoghurt, lifestyle changes could prevent a staggering 40% of cancers.
As we understand more about the way our genes are switched on and off by factors in our environment, we get closer and closer to being able to advise people what they can do to help turn on genes linked with cancer protection and switch off those linked with causing it.
Though the research is still in its early days, epigenetics may one day identify the exact lifestyle and dietary factors that could prevent cancer. Until then, here is what is proven to lower your risk.
1. LOSE TEN POUNDS
There is evidence showing obesity is linked with stomach cancer. Being obese causes a staggering 52,000 cases of cancers each year including those of the breast, womb, liver, prostate and pancreas. Obesity is second only to smoking which causes 64,000 cases annually.
Linda Bauld, professor of healthy policy at the University of Stirling says that the heavier you are the greater your risk of these particular cancers. She explains even if you’re more than 20 pounds overweight, any weight loss will lower your risk.
2. STICK TO A GLASS A NIGHT
The risk of cancer starts at low levels of alcohol so it’s best to stick to one glass a night.
Earlier this year, chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies declared no level of alcohol consumption was safe. She changed weekly recommendations to 14 units for both men and women. The key reason was the link between even low alcohol consumption and seven types of cancers including those of the breast, liver, bowel, mouth and throat.
High levels of alchool cause dehydration which makes cells more vulnerable to multiplying, and this effect is greater the more alcohol you drink on one occasion.
3. EAT YOGHURT
To keep your gut bacteria in good shape, eat a mix of probiotic foods such as live yoghurt.
Our gut bacteria or microbiome has been linked with everything from mood to obesity in recent months.
A growing number of studies are now linking it to lowered cancer risk.
The latest, published last month in the journal PLOS One gave one group of mice beneficial bacteria through probiotic supplements and the other non-beneficial bacteria. The mice receiving the good bacteria produced metabolites known to prevent cancer in their guts and were also better able to metabolise fats. Beneficial bacteria keep the immune system in great shape generally so it beats off the cancer cells.
4. TAKE AN ASPIRIN
Taking aspirin for five years or more reduces the risk of developing bowel cancer.
We’ve known for some time that taking a low-dose aspirin a day may help prevent the risk of heart attack. But now, growing evidence suggests it could help prevent colorectal or bowel cancer, which strikes over 40,000 Brits each year.
It’s also been found that people who do get cancer are at less risk of having it spread if they take aspirin.
If there is an inherited tendency toward bowel cancer, taking a low-dose aspirin is a good idea. Prof. Johnson says that aspirin may work by reprogramming the way the immune system works in particular affecting the inflammation pathways in the lining of the gut, and thus having some effect on its ability to recognise very early cancers and remove them.
But it comes with risks such as bleeding from ulcers in the stomach, so talk to your doctor before taking it.
5. MARINATE YOUR MEAT
In the 1990s the biggest study into nutrition and cancer began tracking the diets of 500,000 healthy people aged 45-79 across ten countries in Europe and Britain and it found out that processed and red meat are associated with a higher risk of developing bowel and stomach cancers
Current recommendations suggest sticking to 70 grams a day – two rashers of bacon.
Research also suggests charred or well-done meats may be associated with increased risk.
This is because of cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which form when meat is cooked at high temperatures.
But meat lovers don’t despair, fascinating research from Kansas State University found marinating meat in spices such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, sage and marjoram before cooking could lower the HCA components in meat.
6. GO FOR FIBRE
Grains such as oats, brown rice and wholemeal can lower the risk of bowel cancer.
The EPIC study found that simply by increasing your fibre and your fruit and vegetable intake to five portions a day could help prevent 14 different types of cancers.
Some research has suggested it may help prevent breast and prostate cancers too.
It’s not certain how it happens but some speculate that this too might be about gut bacteria.
7. USE SPF 30
Children who have been exposed to sunburn are more likely to develop skin cancer
In April this year, a study at Ohio State University confirmed wearing SPF 30 could help prevent not only burns but also malignant melanoma.
Professor Bauld says that sunscreen is important but its also crucial to get in the shade when the sun is strong, to wear a hat and to protect kids as children who have been exposed to sunburn are more likely to develop skin cancer as adults.
Colour choice can help too. When covering up, Spanish research found that blue and red fabrics offered better sun protection than white or yellow ones.
Make sure you protect areas where sun hits as these are where most cancers develop. Think bald heads and torsos in men and or exposed calves in women.
8. GET MOVING
Being active each day could prevent around 3,400 cases of breast, bowel and womb cancers in Britain.
The EPIC study found those who did 30 minutes of exercise each day or had an active job had lower chance of developing cancer.