cancer prevention

Cancer, Exercise & Nutrition

Snap shot of cancer in Australia…

  • The prevalence of cancer is doubling every 10 years.
  • It is estimated that approximately 130, 000 new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2016.
  • 1 in 2 (male) and 1 in 3 (female) Australian’s will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85.
  • Approximately 46,880 deaths from cancer in 2016.
  • Accounts for 16% -19% of the total disease burden in Australia.
  • 67% chance of survival when diagnosed.

These statistics are unfortunately our reality.

What is Cancer?

Cancer Council Australia defines cancer as;

.. a disease of the body’s cells. Normally cells grow and multiply in a controlled way, however, if something causes a mistake to occur in the cells’ genetic blueprints, this control can be lost. Cancer is the term used to describe collections of these cells, growing and potentially spreading within the body.

There are over 200 different types of cancers which exists and this number may continue to grow with advances in cancer detection and as our exposure to different risk factors increase. There has been various studies that have given us answers on what triggers these cells to begin there journey around our bodies. However, there are certain cancers which have a prominent effect on the gender type;

The most commonly diagnosed cancers in males are:

  • Prostate (1 in 5)
  • Bowel (1 in 11)
  • Lung (1 in 13)
  • Melanoma (1 in 14)

The most commonly diagnosed cancers in females are:

  • Breast (1 in 8)
  • Bowel (1 in 15)
  • Gynecological (1 in 22)
  • Melanoma (1 in 24)

In 2016 it was estimated that 30% (3 in 10) deaths registered in Australia were accounted for by cancer. It is important to understand that this epidemic requires proactive action on a daily basis to help reverse these statistics and the prevalence of suffering from cancer in the future.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors which increase your chances of developing certain types of cancer. Fortunately a significant group of these risk factors are modifiable. Put simply, YOU have control over their affects on your individual health.

Some of these risk factors include;

  • Poor Diet – A diet high in red and processed meat consumption, insufficient fiber, fruit and vegetable intake all contribute to the cancer burden.
  • Overweight and obesity – As your weight increases your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases increase.
  • Sedentary Behaviour – Insufficient physical activity or movement has an inverse effect in maintaining healthy body weight, bone density and immune function.
  • Smoking – Accounts for approximately 20% of the total cancer burden. Tobacco contains over 7000 chemicals which when inhaled enter your blood and lymph systems through your lungs and effects these systems from functioning optimally.
  • Alcohol consumption – When breaking down alcohol the body produces toxic chemicals which are cancerous, damages DNA, inhibits the absorption of nutrients and increases the levels of estrogen in the blood which directly increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • UV (Ultraviolet) radiation – Over exposure of radiation from the sun can damage skin cells and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Sunburn or a tan is a distinct sign that your skin has been damaged. It is important that you implement sun protection controls when under direct sunlight for prolonged periods. Wearing hats, sunglasses, long clothing and applying sunscreen must be considered in these conditions to reduce your risk of radiation exposure.
  • Man-made radiation – Eposure of radiation from medical equipment (MRI, X-Rays), televisions, mobile phones and combustible gases (environmental).

On the other hand, there are certain cancer risk factors which we cannot control. These include;

  • Age – As we age the prevalence of cancer also increases. The median age of cancer diagnosis is 66 years.
  • Genetics – Individuals may be born with certain genetic mutations which pre-dispose them to an increase risk of developing cancer.
  • Family History – In rare instance certain genes may be inherited which lead to an increase risk of cancer.
  • Autoimmune Disease – These diseases can weaken your immune system and thus increase your risk of developing cancer.
  • Viruses – Certain viruses can attack cells in your body and push the cell towards becoming cancerous.

Cancer and Exercise

Research has long informed us that conducting a structured exercise program will help maintain a healthy body weight, increase your muscle mass, strengthen your bones and improve your overall health. This alone is enough reason to conduct exercise to prevent the onset of chronic disease and improve overall well-being. Studies have demonstrated that specific chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hyperlipideamia have a link to increased risk of certain types of cancers. So using exercise as a vehicle to reduce chronic disease and thus the prevalence of cancer onset is imperative and should be incorporate in your everyday lives!

With respect to cancer specifically, exercise has demonstrated the following benefits;

  • Reduce cancer related fatigue.
  • Maintain and improve cardiovascular function.
  • Strengthen and protect bones.
  • Improve mood and psychological well-being (drug free relief while undergoing treatment).
  • Improved appetite.
  • Improve symptoms of nausea and vomiting (side effect from chemotherapy).
  • Improved immune function (stimulating lymphokines).
  • Improved completion rates with chemotherapy.
  • Increase an individuals will to live.
  • Improve Health Related Quality of Life (HRQOL).
  • Enhanced pre-diagnosis, active treatment, and post-treatment patient reaction to treatment.

Exercise Guidelines

The recipe for the correct type, duration and frequency of exercise for cancer is very interdependent. Several factors may affect your ability to exercise which may include, the type of cancer, stage of treatment, systematic affects, previous exercise history, fatigue periods during treatment and the volume of medications being induced.

Generally, the guidelines for exercise are;

  • 20-60mins per session.
  • Moderate intensity exercise (50% to 75% Maximal Heart Rate).
  • 3-5 days per week.
  • Include aerobic, resistance and flexibility components to obtain a holistic benefit from your program.
  • Exercise in a supportive and social environment.
  • If you are feeling unwell or sick, listen to your body and rest as required.
  • If undertaking radiation therapy, avoid frequent use of swimming pools as you may be exposed to bacteria’s which may cause infections and chlorinated pools may irritate the skin.

Cancer and Nutrition

‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food’ – Hippocrates.

The importance of good nutrition on the human body was recognised in the ancient era. The unfortunate truth is that the way the western world has developed, society is surrounded by big flashy lights encouraging fast food consumption, supermarkets stacked with products containing refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, GMOs (Genetically Modified Foods) and pesticide based foods. On the flip side, with advances in technology, people are being sealed to their smart phones and our busy lifestyles encourage us to be less active to a certain degree. Hence the reason why good nutrition and healthy eating is vital not only for cancer prevention/management but for overall disease prevention.

Nutritional Guidelines

30% of all cancers cases are linked to poor dietary habits. The argument is real and good nutrition needs to be considered.

Research has indicated that the following nutritional guidelines promote good health and help reduce the prevalence of cancer.

  • Moderate intake of animal based proteins (red meat, diary, fish, eggs and chicken).
  • Moderate intake of dairy based products.
  • Increase intake of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • A plant based diet should be encouraged or at least influence a majority of the food consumption in your diet.
  • Avoid highly processed and refined sugars.
  • Wherever possible eat organically grown produce over GMOs or conventional foods. However, don’t let this deter you from eating conventional based produce, you should be more concerned about good nutrition. Studies show that the incidence of cancer from a poor diet far out weight the incidence of consuming conventional based produce.
  • Avoid alcohol intake.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Reduce portion sizes to avoid over eating.
  • Let water be your primary fluid consumption to eliminate toxins for your body and promote cellular nourishment.

Exercise and good nutrition are truly best medicine!

Creating a relationship between your General Practitioner, Oncologist, Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Dietitian to devise an exercise and diet regiment that is appropriate for your specific condition and capacity, will significantly help you manage and treat your cancer and cancer symptoms. This will ensure a holistic approach with improved outcomes.

For more information see:

Cancer – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2016.

Cancer in Australia – Cancer Council Australia, 2016.