2 months ago

Cancer : Risk factors and prevention. 

Over 4 million people in France today are living with cancer. More and more people are being diagnosed with some form of cancer, due to better screening processes and an ageing population. The most prominent forms of cancer are breast cancer (for women) and prostate cancer (for men), with lung and rectal cancer falling just shy in prominence for both. 

The formation of cancer can be 85% attributed to environmental factors and 15% to hereditary factors, and it should be known that 40% of cancers can be prevented by adjusting one’s environment, mainly through changes in behaviour and lifestyle. For instance, more than 20,000 new cases of cancer can be linked to diet!

Red meat, cold cuts and colo-rectal cancer. 

The international agency for research on cancer has classified red meat, composed of nitrates and heterocyclic amines as “probably carcinogenic” and cold cuts as “carcinogenic” to humans. Numerous studies have demonstrated the carcinogenicity of these compounds found in red meat in the colorectal mucosa, and more recent studies, such as the SU.VI.MAX study conducted in 2017, have shown an increased risk of developing breast and prostate cancer, the most prolific forms of cancer. 

As a result of these studies, it is recommended to consume no more than 500g of red meat per week, and less than 25g of cold cuts per day.  

Which dietary rules should be followed in order to limit the risks of cancer?

  1. First and foremost, the most important rule to adopt in any balanced diet is the daily consumption of fruits and vegetables. You have probably heard the phrase “eat 5 fruits and vegetables every day”, and you should abide by this phrase! Fruit and vegetables have many protective properties for your body, and many studies, such as one study called SU.VI.MAX, conducted over a duration of 8 years, has shown that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables (5 fruit/vegetables a day, between 400g and 800g) reduced the risk of cancer by 31%.
  2. You have probably also heard that you should limit your daily consumption of salt, and should not exceed 6g of salt per day. Indeed, salt is used in many, if not all foods, as a preservative or flavour enhancer. An excess of salt in your diet is a risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease, but also for cancers, most commonly stomach cancer. Foods which tend to be rich in salt include cold cuts and deli meats, broths, sauces and condiments, as well as processed foods. A balanced and unprocessed diet is therefore the best option in order to limit the appearance of cancer.
  3. As previously mentioned, limiting your intake of cold cuts and red meat is an important factor in cancer prevention. However the consumption of protein should not be neglected, and it is important to vary your sources of protein. Take these examples, which are rich in protein: poultry, fish, eggs and vegetables!
  4. Another important factor in cancer prevention is the consumption of alcohol, especially when it is associated with the consumption of tobacco, with the risks of cancer formation rising by 37 times in these individuals. Alcohol has long been a proven carcinogen, responsible for 11% of cancers in men and 4.5% in women. Since 2017, the recommendations for alcohol consumption have been set at 10 drinks per week with a maximum of 2 drinks per day, but not everyday! Avoiding alcohol completely or greatly limiting your consumption still remains the best way to protect your health from the negative effects of alcohol.

The consumption of certain food supplements can also increase the risk of cancer, it is very important to know which ones increase risks, and you should always ask your doctor before taking any kind of supplements, especially when you are taking medicine on the side, as these could interact with each other and cause undesired side effects. 

Cancer and prevention

Diet is not the only variable that plays a role in the risk of cancer. Physical activity can also play a protective role, reducing the risks. Daily physical activity allows energy expenditure, and can help us avoid a sedentary lifestyle, which is responsible for the weight gain of many French people.  Obesity plays an important role in the development of cancers, particularly in colon, breast and prostate cancer. 

Exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays is a risk factor for skin cancer. It is therefore important to try and limit your exposure during the hottest and brightest hours of the day, where UV rays are most prominent. Using sunscreen at SPF 50, wearing caps/hats, sunglasses and t-shirts are all preventive measures you can take to limit the risks. 

Finally, we have tobacco. Tobacco consumption is directly correlated to 25% of all cancer deaths in France, and is the main cause of lung cancer, which is the most deadly form of cancer. You should throw away your cigarettes to avoid the risks of cancer. 

Systematic screening in france

 Cancer screening is an essential practice, and can increase your chances of survival if the cancer is caught early. It is recommended that women between the ages of 50 and 74 are screened for breast cancer every 2 years. For women between the ages of 25 and 65, it is recommended to be screened for cervical cancer every 3 years. For men and women, colorectal cancer screening is performed from the age of 50, as it is responsible for the 18000 deaths in France each year. 

Other screenings are not systematic, as the aforementioned screenings above. However it is nonetheless important to monitor, detect and screen for cancer regularly in order to diagnose cancer as quickly as possible, in order to strengthen your chances of beating cancer! 

Lorine TRAMEAU
Nutritional Engineer at Nutrimis