Cancer: A conversation that we should be having

October is breast cancer awareness month. The word ‘cancer’ is an uncomfortable word and is often referred to under hushed tones as the big ‘C’. Sometimes we can be tempted to switch off when we hear about it, but the fact is that most of us have a family member or friend that has had the disease. So, whether we like it or not, it is a conversation that we should be having. Cancer charities have been busy in recent years raising awareness about different types of cancers and how we can all reduce our risk.

Let’s start with the positives. The evidence that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of most cancers is strong. As a nutritionist it’s a message that I often give. However, I’ve lost count of the number of times when the topic of diet and cancer comes up in conversation and I get the response “diet doesn’t make a bit of difference. Sure so and so ate really healthily, didn’t smoke and walked every day and now look at them, 6 foot under at the age of 50”. The reality is that that person would most likely have developed cancer at an even earlier age if they hadn’t lived a healthy lifestyle. I won’t argue that genetics plays a big role in cases like this but the evidence is showing that lifestyle does play an important role too.

There are over 200 different types of cancer, all which have different risks. Unless we have a family history of a particular cancer there is no practical way of knowing if we are at a high risk of developing one of these cancers. Most of us are aware that smoking is going to increase our risk of cancer but it’s worth knowing what else does. 

Back in 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute of Cancer Research looked at the evidence of the role of diet and physical activity for most cancers. They came up with a set of diet and physical activity recommendations to reduce our overall risk of getting cancer. These are:

  • Keep to a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, and pulses such as beans
  • Eat small amounts of red meat and avoid processed meats
  • Keep treats sensible – avoid sugary drinks and limit foods high in fat.
  • Reduce salt
  • Limit alcohol - limit alcoholic drinks to two for men and one for women a day
  • Keep physically active for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer

With over 40,000 people on the island getting a cancer diagnosis every year I feel we should talk to each other about how we can reduce our risk. One in three of us will get a cancer diagnosis in our lifetime so why not do something while we still can.The Irish Cancer Society and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland provide more information and cancer and supporting friends and family with cancer.

Posted: 19/10/2012 11:46:24 by Marian O’Reilly
Filed under: Cancer, Health

About Me

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Marian O’Reilly
Hi, my name is Marian O’Reilly and I’m the Chief Specialist in Nutrition at safefood. My job is varied ranging from nutrition research, working on mass media campaigns to dealing with public queries on healthy eating. I live in Co. Cork with my husband and our one year son. I’m a lover of the outdoors and in my spare time will be found out walking.