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Salubrious Scoop: Cancer, how you can lower your risk

Here's how to lower your risk factors of getting cancer.

We as Canadians are seeing more and more cancer every single year, it’s absolutely scary.  We’ve all been touched by it with someone we know or by first hand experience.  I recently connected with an old friend who lives with leukemia, and I’ve survived cancer myself twice.  So I thought it appropriate to give you some great tips based on research to help lower your risk factors.

In 2011, 45% of men and 40% of women were affected by cancer.  Of the estimated 75,000 cancer deaths that year, Health Canada estimated that 1/3 would never have happened if people didn’t smoke.  And another third could have been prevented through weight loss, exercise and healthier eating. 

Of course not all cancers are equal when it comes to preventing them.  Lung and pancreatic are more likely to cause death over prostate and breast; colon and cervical are easier to detect over others like ovarian and esophageal, and other cancers are linked to being controlled better through exercise and diet.

So lets touch on what you ‘can’ control.

Breast Cancer:

  • Hormone intake (estrogen plus progestin) after menopause increases risk of breast cancer, but has dropped by 4% from 2001 to 2004 due to women refusing to take it
  • Post-menopausal women not taking hormones and overweight, have a higher risk of breast cancer due to higher insulin levels, which develops tumors
  • A daily serving of alcohol raises the risk
  • High risk factors - Excess weight and poor eating. Post-menopause, fat cells, not your ovaries, are the main source of estrogen, promoting the growth of most breast cancers (J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 90: 1292, 1998), family history, menstruation started before age 12 or menopause after 55, never gave birth, dense breast tissue, abnormal breast cells, you have gene mutations – BRCA1 & BRCA2 – found in families with high rates of breast cancer

Prevention – Exercise daily, eat clean, unprocessed foods and reduce alcohol consumption.

Colon & Rectal Cancer:

  • Claim more lives than any cancer other than lung
  • Colonoscopies and screening have dropped risks considerably since 1985
  • Red and processed meats contribute to the risk
  • High risk if over 50 years, family history, have had colon polyps, smoke or have had ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.  Being overweight is a clear association with colorectal cancer.

Prevention – Exercise daily and eat clean, unprocessed foods.  Moderate to vigorous exercise at least 5 times a week decreases risk of colon cancer by 18%.  Dairy and calcium are protectants (within parameters). 1,000 mg of calcium/day lowered risk of precancerous colon polyps, but men who consumed 1,500 mg/day increased their risk of prostate cancer. 800 – 1,200 mg/day is the sweet spot.


  • Most common in smokers, heavy drinkers and poorly nourished
  • Higher risk for those with obesity and acid reflux, over 60 years and male.
  • Obese people increase risk by 70%

Prevention - Exercise daily, eat clean, unprocessed foods, stop smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.


  • Lung cancer kills more Canadians than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined
  • 85% of lung cancers come from cigarettes, cigars and pipes, however, non-smokers have succumbed to this disease
  • High risks factors – over 65 years, smoker, family history, second hand smoke or exposed to radon, asbestos, diesel exhaust or air pollution

Prevention – Higher levels of B-6 in the blood (lowers risk by 55%) but has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a smoker.  Eliminate smoking and environmental hazards listed above.


  • High risk factors – over 50 years, you never gave birth, you took estrogen (without progestin) for at least 10 years, you have gene mutations – BRCA1 & BRCA2 – found in families with high rates of ovarian cancer, and if you, your mother, siblings or daughter had ovarian or breast cancer

Prevention – So far, research has shown that there is little women can do to reduce the risks of ovarian cancer and it’s hard to screen for.  Your best bet according to Marjorie McCullough from the American Cancer Society, is to follow guidelines for lowering risk of other cancers by maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and eat a predominantly plant based diet.


  • The 5-year survival rate is 6%, lower than any other cancer
  • High risk factors – parent or sibling had it, you have Type 2 diabetes, smoker, and if you get chronic pancreatitis

Prevention – Overweight and obesity contribute to pancreatic cancer by up to 28%, keep the weight off, exercise daily and eat a clean diet.


  • There has been increase in cases but only because of the available PSA testing in the mid-80’s to mid-90’s.
  • High risk factors – over 65 years, family history with brother, father or son, and cellular changes of high-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia found from biopsy

Prevention – Exercise is the one predominant factor that lowers prostate cancer. Older men doing vigorous activity like jogging, biking, swimming or tennis had a 70% lower risk of advanced or lethal cancer.  Keeping the weight off as in anything will increase your health factor.


  • Almost 70% of endometrial (uterus lining) cancers are detected early due to bleeding.  However, the 5-year survival rate goes form 92-99% for cancers that haven’t spread, to 30% for those that have spread beyond the pelvis
  • High risk factors – if mother, sister or daughter had it, you never gave birth, started menstruation before age 12 or menopause after 52, and if you have taken estrogen hormones without progestin

Prevention – Exercise and eat clean foods.  Excess weight is directly linked to endometrial cancer, but researchers indicate that excess weight put on in your 20’s and 30’s versus your 40’s and 50’s increases your risk. (Int. J. Cancer 129: 1237, 2011) This is a concern with today’s younger people as overweight and obesity are at record highs.


  • Experts still do not know what causes leukemia but there are common risk factors in developing it and you can avoid these to help reduce the risk of getting some leukemia’s
  • High risk factors - exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene and formaldehyde, exposure to a large amount of radiation, had chemotherapy for another type of cancer, have Down syndrome or other genetic problems or smoke tobacco (The University of Kansas Cancer Center).  Your family history, being middle-aged or older, male, and white, being infected with a virus known as HTLV-1, or having a gene change (mutation) called the Philadelphia chromosome.

Prevention – Although there is no way to prevent it, you can manage your side effects and focus on your health to help avoid it. In general, eating a healthy balanced diet, staying hydrate, getting plenty of sleep and exercising regularly will help control symptoms and reduce the risk. (e-medicine health)

Please take care and be pro-active in your health.