A healthy lifestyle can help you prevent one of the world's most dreaded diseases. Tips to stay cancer free

Though we never really tend to notice it, throughout our lives, the cells of our body are constantly being rejuvenated and replaced. Cancer in any part of the body occurs when those cells divide rapidly, faster than the normal rate. Usually, even as these rogue cells divide, they are immediately mopped up by our immune system and even before the disease can develop, the crisis is averted.

However, as stress and other unhealthy practices clutter our daily lives, our immunity has taken a beating. We are now more vulnerable to the hidden triggers of cancer than ever before. According to statistics and studies by the WHO, cancer is not only the leading cause of death worldwide, but the numbers of fatalities are continuing to grow. The global number of cancer deaths is predicted to increase by a whopping 45% by 2030 (leading to the demise of over 15.5 million people worldwide).

Cancer has often been described as a 'stealth' disease; one that creeps up on you without warning and when you least expect it. After all, how would you be able to tell which cells in your body will one day decide to stray? But studies now reveal that we are not as helpless as we think we are in preventing cancer.

One can indeed actively avoid the disease by steering clear of carcinogens or cancer causing agents. Apart from the common or better known carcinogens such as tobacco (in any form), alcohol and of course, a family history of the disease, there are other hidden triggers that can put you at risk. By simply tweaking your lifestyle today, you can do your best to give cancer a wide berth.

Watch Your Waistline: "Obesity is a known factor which increases the risk of developing cancers in the breast, uterus, prostrate and colon" says Dr Sumeet Shah, Consultant surgical oncologist, Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai. Being physically active for at least half an hour a day, cutting down on sugar and fat and eating in moderation, experts feel, will help far more than restrictive dieting. Regardless of your weight, excessive abdominal fat can put you at risk for cancer.

In a study conducted by the strategic director of the American Cancer Society, Dr Eric J. Jacobs, it was established that people with very large waists (47 inches or larger in men, 42 inches or larger in women) were twice as likely to succumb to diseases like cancer when compared to those with the smaller waists (35 inches in men, 30 inches in women).

Improve your nutrition and immunity:

Dr Shah points out that careful attention to the nutritive value of your diet is critical. “A high intake of refined carbohydrates (such as maida and polished rice), decreases bowel movement, which in turn increases the contact time that these harmful substances stay in the colonic wall. This increases the chances of contracting cancer. Also, excessively smoked foods (such as tandoor items and charcoal grilled foods), are responsible for stomach and esopheagal cancers. Junk foods, colas, artificial sweeteners, all of which have become a part of our daily diets are harmful as well,” he says. Dr Shah's advice is to choose foods that play an important role in improving our body's immunity. "Vitamins and other trace minerals help boost immunity and this is done through the adequate intake of vegetables and fruits. Eat at least one to two fruits daily. Citrus fruits are excellent, since these contain antioxidants and Vitamin C, both of which boost immunity.”

Get some shut eye:

Uninterrupted, good quality sleep can certainly save your life. But if you're working the night shift or just tend to burn the midnight oil once too often, you could be putting your body through stress that could trigger cancer. “Studies have established that an alteration of circadian (day and night) rhythms are found to promote tumour growth,” Dr. Selvi Radhakrishna, a consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon, practicing at Apollo Speciality Hospital and the Chennai Breast Centre. Aim to rise in the morning and retire for the night at the same timings on most days.

Be aware of the health hazards in stored foods:

Store grains properly and regularly check for signs of spoilage. A well-known carcinogen is aflatoxin. “This is a fungus that coats stored grains and is commonly found in spoilt groundnuts,” says Dr Selvi. “It is a very powerful toxin and can cause liver cancer. Other health hazards in food involve the use of pesticides. Pesticides like DDT are banned in the states and these put you at potential risk. Choose organic pesticide-free produce whenever you can and don't recycle cooking oil. “Repeatedly re-using rancid oil can cause some internal changes that lead to cancer,” says Dr Selvi.

Avoid ingesting plastic:

When plastic and rubber melt, they release a toxic substance that is very harmful to the system. “The burning of plastic releases dioxin, which is very toxic,” says Dr Selvi. “Yet, for the bogi festival, rubber and plastics are often found burning on random street corners. Avoid using cheap plastic bottles that can overheat and leech plastic into drinking water. You'll find that avoiding cancer is only a matter of living the healthiest lifestyle possible!

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