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 Cancer Prevention: What We Need to Know 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by . View all columns in series
It may not be of much concern for you now - preventing cancer that is.

You're probably thinking there are more important issues at hand. After all, if you're healthy, why spend your time worrying about what might never occur?

If you're convinced there's nothing you can do to prevent cancer, what I'm about to discuss just might change your mind. It can also potentially save your life or that of a loved-one.

Actually I feel rather compelled to share some important insights that surfaced in a recent NPR interview I conducted with John Potter, MBBS, PhD of the world-renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.

Dr. Potter chaired an esteemed team of experts who set forth to scientifically explore the relationships between diet, tobacco, alcohol consumption and cancer. One hundred twenty contributors from the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the International Agency on Research in Cancer, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, DC systematically reviewed 4,500 research studies. Their findings, published in 1997, generated a number of fascinating conclusions that include:

  • Eating right, plus staying physically active and maintaining a healthy weight can diminish one's cancer risk by 30% to 40%
  • A simple change, such as eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, could by itself reduce cancer rates more than 20%
  • Alcohol consumption is a definitive risk factor for several types of cancer; it should be limited to two drinks/day for a man and 1 drink/day for a woman
  • As many as 375,000 cases of cancer, at current cancer rates, could be prevented each year in this nation through healthy dietary choices
  • Recommended dietary choices coupled with not smoking have the potential to reduce cancer risk by 60% to 70%
You might be wondering what the scientist behind this data actually eats. During the interview, I asked him just that. It wasn't surprising to learn that he is a vegetarian who consumes a great variety of vegetable products without any supplements or vitamins.

I personally found his response fascinating in view of two key findings that surfaced recently in the medical literature. The first focused on the widely-used supplement, beta-carotene and was published in the December 1999 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. An investigation that included almost 40,000 people over 4 years, showed no statistically significant reduction in cancer or heart disease for half of the group which actually received beta carotene compared to a matched placebo group. This finding is supported by a 12 year study of 22,000 physicians that demonstrated no significant benefit after 12 years. Other US and Finnish studies actually showed a 28% and 18% respective increase in lung cancer among smokers taking the supplement.

The second key finding presented at the American Society for Cell Biology's 1999 annual meeting in Washington, DC revealed that Vitamins E and C, (both free radical scavengers) may ensure additional protection for cancer cells as well as normal cells. These substances actually rendered cancer cells less susceptible to therapeutic strategies, thereby enabling them to grow and spread more rapidly. According to Rudolph Salganik, PhD of the University of North Carolina, "cancer patients who pop vitamins during chemotherapy and radiation therapy may unwittingly be sabotaging their own treatment."

While these findings may challenge what some consider common knowledge, Dr. Potter and his team arrived at similar conclusions 2 years ago in their book, Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a global perspective. I highly recommend this text which is available from the American Institute for Cancer Research. Their comprehensive website, provides a wealth of facts, figures and practical insights from a number of credible sources.

On a scientific level it makes a great deal of sense to reconsider cancer as a potentially preventable disease. There's also no better time than the present to challenge the myriad of unsubstantiated claims that promote what I have termed, "supplemental myths for profit." Why not take this opportunity to rethink your personal nutrition approach for cancer prevention?

In conclusion, it's no less than shocking to realize that 60-80% of cancer worldwide can be prevented through a practical nutritional approach coupled with avoidance of alcohol and tobacco products. A new drug with such effectiveness would certainly be considered a miracle - Mind Over Matter!

© 1999 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

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 About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a......moreBarry Bittman MD
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