The human toll cancer takes is significant, both on the lives it claims and on the friends and family of those victims. Estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer indicated 10 million individuals across the globe lost their lives to cancer (excluding nonmelanoma skin cancer) in 2020. New research indicates those numbers could be on the rise.
A study published in the journal The Lancet in 2020 found that deaths from cancer are now more common in some high- and middle-income countries than deaths from cardiovascular disease. Authors of the study, which examined incidences of cancer among adults between the ages of 35 and 70 in 21 countries across five continents, concluded that cancer is like to become the leading cause of death in middle-age.
Though cancer is a formidable disease, many cases of cancer are preventable. In fact, the things people do every day can go a long way toward lowering their cancer risk by a significant margin. Certain behaviors, like avoiding smoking, are widely known to reduce cancer risk. But some lesser known actions also can help individuals lower their risk.
• Quit when you hear the click at the gas station. The Air Pollution Control District of Santa Barbara County in California notes that gasoline vapors include a variety of toxic substances, including benzene. Benzene is an air pollutant that adversely affects the central nervous system, the respiratory tract and the immune system. Modern automobiles now click when the gas tank is full and it’s vital that drivers avoid adding any more gas after they hear that click. Drivers may be accustomed to topping off after the click, but doing so can affect the vapor recovery system in a car. That system is designed to keep toxic chemicals like benzene out of the air. Topping off can needlessly expose drivers and their passengers to benzene, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers a carcinogen, or cancer-causing chemical.
• Grill wisely. Millions of people anxiously await the return of warm weather so they can once again fire up their backyard grills. Various studies have suggested there’s a link between well-done grilled meat and cancer. One study conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University found that high intake of well-done meat increases exposure to heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a type of carcinogen that forms in cooked red meat. That doesn’t mean individuals should put away their grills, but a change in grilling habits could help lower cancer risk. For example, one study from researchers at Kansas State University found that adding antioxidant-rich spices such as rosemary and thyme to marinade and soaking meat for at least an hour before cooking can reduce HCAs by as much as 87 percent.
• Drink more fluids. Drinking more fluids is one of the easier things people can do every day to reduce their cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends individuals consume eight cups of water per day, but millions likely fall far short of that amount. That’s unfortunate, as research presented at the American Association
for Cancer Research International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research in 2011 found that high fluid intake was associated with a 24 percent reduced bladder cancer risk among men. In addition, a separate study funded by the Strauss Institute and published in 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that women with breast cancer consumed less water and total fluids than women who did not have breast cancer. The researchers concluded more investigation into the link between drinking more water and reducing breast cancer risk is necessary, but noted that drinking water is harmless, convenient and beneficial to many aspects of health.
Though cancer could soon become the leading cause of death in various parts of the globe, many of those deaths can be prevented. And even the simplest measures can make a difference in cancer risk.
This story appeared on page 17 of the September 27, 2023 print edition of the Spotlight