It’s World Cancer Day on Sunday, February 4, but are there steps you can take right now to safeguard against the dreaded disease?
If doctors invented a pill which could reduce your chances of breast cancer by 30 per cent and bowel cancer by a staggering 45 per cent, we’d all be standing in line for it.
But the truth is we all have it in our power to do just that – right now.
And on World Cancer Day on February 4, the World Cancer Research Fund hopes people will finally take heed of its prevention message.
Simply by making a few lifestyle changes, we could all help safeguard ourselves against the dreaded disease.
For while outcomes for cancer patients are now far better than they were just a decade ago, none of us wants to be diagnosed.
Professor Annie Anderson knows this only too well.
As co-director of the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network and Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University of Dundee, she’s met hundreds of patients with the disease.
Annie is also a World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) grant panel member, which uses the charity’s findings to help decide the research projects relating to cancer and cancer prevention it funds and supports.
On Monday, February 5, the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network will host its seventh successful conference on the disease; the event is already a sell-0ut.
Among the speakers at that event – which takes the World Cancer Day theme of We Can, I Can – will be patients with cancer, NHS professionals, health students and Scotland’s public health minister, MSP Aileen Campbell.
And the conference’s theme is one Annie is very keen to get across to readers.
She said: “There’s a huge amount of evidence showing the links between lifestyle and cancer – billions have been spent on this evidence.
“But it’s not good enough to have it in journals so one of the most important jobs the SCPN does is communicate that to people via its quarterly newsletter and annual conference, which coincides with World Cancer Day.
“Smoking is still top of the bill in terms of risk factors, followed by obesity and diet and physical activity.
“If you deal with all three of those factors, you greatly reduce your risk of cancer.
“If a doctor gave you a pill that reduced your risk of breast cancer by up to 30 per cent and your risk of bowel cancer by up to 45 per cent, would you take it?
“It’s not a free ticket – we’ve all heard stories of people smoking like chimneys until they’re well into their 80s or 90s and those who do all the right things but are diagnosed with cancer anyway.
“All the evidence shows, though, that the likelihood of you getting cancer is significantly reduced if you do make some lifestyle changes.”
However, Annie is also quick to point out that the buck doesn’t just stop with individuals.
Indeed, the SCPN is currently drafting a response to the Scottish Government’s obesity consultation, A Healthier Future; it proposes actions to improve diet and weight in Scotland.The consultation will end on January 31.
“Two thirds of Scotland’s population has excess body weight and are physically inactive,” said Annie.
“We don’t have a brilliant diet, with too much processed meat in sausages and pies and we also like our booze.
“So it’s little wonder really that bowel cancer is one of the most common in Scotland.
“The biggest risk factor in terms of bowel cancer is diet and we all eat too little dietary fibre, found in wholegrains , cereals and pulses.
“That’s where retailers come into the equation. We need price promotions on wholegrain foods and fruit and vegetables to help make it more desirable for those on a limited budget.
“The ‘We Can, I Can’ theme was chosen for World Cancer Day because we all need to work together to improve the health picture in Scotland.
“It’s not just down to individual choices.
“The last thing we want to do is make people feel guilty about the choices they’ve made, particularly people who have already been diagnosed.
“Asking people to make lifestyle changes can be motivating but, if they don’t think they have options due to a limited budget, it can also be incredibly demotivating.
“So everyone has a role to play – from local authorities making choices about what’s in their vending machines to employers giving staff the time to take ten ... just ten minutes to go for a walk.
“Walking is free and 99 per cent of people are able to do it.
“It’s been shown, for example, that dog walkers are healthier because they walk more – that’s why we promote it so much.
“If you can afford the gym, have all the gear and want to do it, go for it.
“But walking is something we can all do, at no expense, other than a wee bit of time.
“Even that small change in your daily routine can make a huge difference.”
Cancer prevention is something that many health professionals and charities regularly promote.
Among their number is Dr Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organisation.
He said: “We cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem.
“We need a balanced and integrated approach to prevention, early detection and treatment.”
Annie believes prevention is also better than cure when it comes to cancer diagnoses.
She added: “Outcomes are improving, with cancer screening programmes helping to detect the disease earlier, which means people are surviving much longer.
“But there’s not one patient who has been diagnosed with cancer who doesn’t wish it could have been prevented in the first place.
“We need support to help make sure prevention is possible for everyone, regardless of their budget.
“We can do a lot for ourselves but there’s a wider picture too – we’re surrounded by cheap junk food and that needs to change.”
For more information on SCPN’s work visit the website www.cancerpreventionscotland.org.uk.
And for more on WCRF’s projects, visit its website at www.wcrf-uk.org.
Power up against cancer by eating well before, during and after diagnosis
Sunday, February 4 ,is World Cancer Day, the annual, global initiative in the fight against the global cancer epidemic.
According to the WCRF’s statistics, 351,578 cases were diagnosed in the UK in 2013.
But behind these grim statistics, innovative work is being done by charities like World Cancer Research Fund to both reduce cancer risk and support people living with a cancer diagnosis.
For many years, World Cancer Research Fund has helped people lower their risk of cancer by providing tips on eating well, getting lots of exercise and retaining a healthy weight.
Sarah James, WCRF’s health information publications manager, said: “Our advice has always been aimed at people who are cancer-free, whether they’ve never had a diagnosis or they’ve been given the all-clear.
“However, we frequently receive requests for healthy eating advice for people currently living with cancer and our research has shown that around half of cancer patients don’t receive any dietary advice.
“It’s also true that there’s very little dietitian-approved information available to support people living with cancer.
“So we’ve produced our new Eat Well During Cancer booklet, which is endorsed by the British Dietetic Association (BDA).
“The BDA’s backing ensures our advice is based on the most up-to-date scientific evidence.”
Eat Well During Cancer covers a range of side-effects including weight loss, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhoea, sore mouth and change in taste.
More than 9000 copies of Eat Well During Cancer have been distributed to people living with cancer and health care professionals.
Many more people have downloaded it; the relevant page has already had more than 25,000 page visits.
To request a copy, visit https://www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/free-copy-eat-well-during-cancer-booklet.
WCRF will also be running a social media campaign in the run up to World Cancer Day, which Annie Anderson will feature in.