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Today, 4th Feb 2015, is World Cancer Day. New figures from the latest analysis suggests that half of us, that is every other person reading this, will develop cancer at some stage in their lives. Quite a frightening thought! There is no doubt that the reason behind this is 3 fold:

  • We are all living longer, hence the chances of cancer developing as the body ages are higher
  • Diagnosis of cancer through better detection and education is rising
  • unfortunately environmental and lifestyle factors are deteriorating for some people, thus increasing their exposure and risk to developing cancer.

Whereas early detection and better and early treatment leading to better survival rates is to be welcome, unfortunately improving our environmental and lifestyle risks is proving to be rather difficult. International organisations, Governments, Health Authorities and cancer charities are all working on reducing our lifetime risk but a greater responsibility also rests on us as individuals.  The formula to reduce our risk is not a great big secret. It really is very simple:

  • tobacco is the single most carcinogenic substance that we can expose our bodies to. These days there is so much help available to help us stop smoking, and to continue to smoke in the face of overwhelming evidence of disease and destruction is really not excusable. Apart from heart attacks, strokes, dementia, premature ageing and loss of libido, smoking remains the biggest killer and the biggest cause of lung and oral cancer.
  • Alcohol unfortunately is not far behind smoking and in many people goes hand in hand. With cheap alcohol flooding the market and home drinking on the rise this is going to pose a major health hazard for younger people. A small amount of alcohol is perfectly OK and in some studies even shown to be beneficial, but if we exceed our weekly limits ( 21 units for men and 14 for women, though these may be revised down further to 14 units for men and 10 for women) or indulge in binge drinking then we are increasing our risk of many cancers including oral, oesophageal, stomach, pancreas, liver and bowel.
  • A good healthy balanced diet also helps to reduce not just obesity but also many cancers. Breast cancer particularly is linked to obesity. The best advice is to reduce red meat, saturated fats, salt and sugars and increase the amount of vegetables, nuts and fruit in your diet. Smaller portions and cutting out snacking helps to reduce the calories. Another piece of good advice is to cut out on fizzy drinks and alcohol but to drink plenty of fresh water everyday.
  • Exercise regularly. Our sedentary lifestyle – particularly of the current generation brought up in the digital age – is a major cause of not just obesity, heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and diabetes but also of raising our risk of developing cancer.

In the final part of my blog I am going to concentrate on the role of exercise in preventing deaths from all causes including cancer. Lack of exercise is twice as likely to lead to an early grave as obesity, research has shown. A brisk 20-minute walk each day could be all it takes to avoid dying prematurely, the findings suggest. Scientists looked at the effects of obesity and exercise on 334,161 European men and women whose progress was followed for 12 years. They found that people who engaged in moderate levels of daily exercise – equivalent to taking an energetic 20-minute walk – were 16% to 30% less likely to die than those classified as inactive. Lack of exercise was thought to have caused almost 700,000 deaths across Europe in 2008. Study leader Prof Ulf Ekelund, from the Medical Research Council (MRC) epidemiology unit at Cambridge University, said: “This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive. “Although we found that just 20 minutes would make a difference, we should really be looking to do more than this – physical activity has many proven health benefits and should be an important part of our daily life.” You can read more about this study on http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jan/14/scientists-recommend-20-minute-daily-walk-premature-death

At Hope Against Cancer in Leicestershire there is a lot of research going on into cancer prevention. Two important projects – funded by you – are the role of Curcumin in preventing bowel cancer and also that of a low dose of aspirin in preventing many types of cancer.

These are exciting times in cancer prevention and further break throughs are in the pipeline in the field of genetics where scientists are trying to understand what causes individual cells to become cancerous.

All this costs money but in Leicester we are in the forefront of progress in this field, no doubt that we are now officially called a centre of excellence in cancer research. This year Hope needs to raise £150,000 for its current projects and the annual cycling challenge – Hope’s Italian Job – of a bike ride from Geneva to Milan is going to be a major fund raiser to achieve its goals.

I am proud to be involved in this challenge and doing my bit by cycling to prevent cancer! If you go to the link – Hope’s Italian Job and scroll down you will see a link to my page. Its early days and there is a long way to go. You can donate whatever you can afford – even if it is only £1 – by linking directly to my page as well. Apologies for making this blog so long but it is World Cancer Day today after all! Next week – more of my efforts in getting fit for this big challenge.