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Christopher Gavigan Headshot

A Commonsense Approach To Cancer Prevention?

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Like the out of control cell growth at the root of the disease, cancer itself has become rampant in our population. And, while new treatments are curtailing mortality rates (which are still at an abominable 1,500+ people daily), an increasing number of people are still being diagnosed. Without knowing statistics, most of us can tell how invasive it's become. Almost everyone's lives have been touched by cancer these days - compared to a generation ago when it was still a relatively new disease.

In a December 6th New York Times op-ed, Nicholas Kristof cites Dr. Philip Landrigan, the chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai , saying "that the risk that a 50-year-old white woman will develop breast cancer has soared to 12 percent today, from 1 percent in 1975. (Some of that is probably a result of better detection.) Younger people also seem to be developing breast cancer: This year a 10-year-old in California, Hannah, is fighting breast cancer and recording her struggle on a blog...Childhood leukemia is increasing by 1 percent per year." And, that's only one tiny snapshot of how cancer is impacting the population.

In 2009, the National Institutes of Health estimated the 2008 overall annual costs of cancer were $228.1 billion. That includes health care costs, as well as loss of productivity due to illness or death. Many billions more are spent every year on research to find new treatments and cures for cancer. It's one of the most common diseases and one of the most costly. Why, then, is there so little focus on prevention?

Typically, when cancer prevention is discussed, it involves lifestyle factors such as quitting smoking or using sunscreen. Over time, the discussion has even merged with the world of nutrition with new research being done regarding cancer-preventing diets, finding foods and herbs and the like that appear to have protective qualities.

But, we're still missing a major piece of the equation. Conspicuously absent from the conversation are avoidable environmental and chemical risks. What good is it to eat well and exercise in an attempt to stay healthy, if all of your best efforts are counterbalanced by subtle, on-going exposure to carcinogens in everyday products? This is the not-so-new frontier of prevention through carcinogen reduction (Dr. Samuel Epstein, international leading authority on the causes and prevention of cancer, has been preaching this commonsense approach for over two decades).

What can you do?

1. Purge plastics. Kristof's op-ed, titled "Cancer From the Kitchen," outlines how to reduce exposure to carcinogens in from plastics used for storing and serving food. The doctors he asked said "avoid microwaving food in plastic or putting plastics in the dishwasher, because heat may cause chemicals to leach out. And the symposium handed out a reminder card listing 'safer plastics' as those marked (usually at the bottom of a container) 1, 2, 4 or 5. It suggests that the 'plastics to avoid' are those numbered 3, 6 and 7 (unless they are also marked 'BPA-free')."

2. Eat healthy. Opt for more organic, whole foods. Ease up on animal fats. And, start reading labels. You are what you eat!

3. Manage pests safely. Instead of using toxic pesticides, prevent pests by keeping a clean home. Prevent weeds by using mulch and maintaining a healthy lawn. If you do have a problem, opt for non-toxic methods before reaching for chemicals.

4. Detoxify your beauty routine. Personal care products contain a laundry list of suspect chemicals. Reduce how much you use and to use Skin Deep to find the safest products. You can also print the Healthy Child Pocket Guide to help you on the go.

5. Clean without toxic chemicals. Use gentle castile soap and water - these have been shown to keep surfaces as free of bacteria as antibacterial soaps do. In fact, antibacterial soaps and disposable wipes have not proven any more effective than regular soap in preventing infections among average consumers, but raise significant concerns about developing resistant bacteria. Opt for simple kitchen ingredients for basic cleaning, like vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda - or use natural, non-toxic clearers instead.

Essential resources and more tools and information:

Healthy Child Healthy World
Cancer Prevention Coalition
Breast Cancer Fund

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