The latest cancer research has an imposing title: The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2009, and some equally impressive data that finds cancer death rates falling all over the place. So why are so many experts so very disappointed in the news?
Initially, the recent report from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society seems pretty good. While the incidence of a handful of cancers has increased, for the most part the disease is on the decline. From 2000 to 2009, overall death rates among men and women fell 1.8% and 1.4% per year respectively. Ten of 17 of the most common male cancers and 15 of 18 of the most common female types showed mortality decreases. Overall cancer rates for kids under 14 also fell 1.8% per year.
That sounds great, yet many in the cancer community say that the new statistics don't reflect any real progress. They only show that more people are reaping the benefits of lifestyle changes like not smoking and earlier detection from now routine tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. If cancer was in meaningful retreat and the billions of dollars spent developing new treatments were actually getting us somewhere, the rates of decline should be much higher. Instead, we're seeing only incremental improvement.
It's pretty clear that any victory in the so-called war on cancer is still years off. While we wait for its surrender, it remains up to us to do our own fighting, and that means following the experts' advice to prevent it:
- Eat smart. Skip the prefab processed stuff and load up on fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods, and homemade dishes made from them. In Michael Pollan's words, "eat mostly plants." A low-fat, low-red-meat lifestyle is also recommended.
- Focus on "super foods." These include broccoli, garlic, probiotic and fermented foods, blueberries, cabbage, green tea, omega-3s, turmeric, cooked tomatoes, legumes and beans, and orange foods like carrots and yams.
- Grill with sauces. Slathering grilled meats with sauce while they cook helps prevent the formation of carcinogenic compounds created by high heat. Adding rosemary and thyme to marinades and soaking meat an hour before cooking also helps.
- Drink reasonably. That's no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women. And we can’t "save up" these drinks for a weekend bash that pours them all at once!
- Drink cleaner. Filter your tap water to remove pollutants and intentionally added mutagens and carcinogens like fluoride and chlorine.
- Ban sugar. Cancer cells feed on it, and they don’t care where it comes from so don't think local honey is better than sugar or 100% fruit juice is okay where soda isn't.
- Get active. Exercise produces weight loss and healthy weight maintenance, which are linked to lower risks of many cancers.
- Stay in the shade. Skin cancer is one of life's most common kinds. Avoiding midday sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps discourages it. But make sure you get 15 minutes of sunscreen-free sun per day to boost your body's vitamin D levels.
- If you can, avoid hormone therapies like those prescribed for menopause. Hormones can help many cancers grow. If need hormone therapy, limit it to five years or less.
Strategies like these can help make each of us part of the best cancer statistic of all: the approximately 50% of men and 66% of women who'll get through life without it.