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How to prevent cancer

Brigitte Osterath
February 4, 2019

Cancer doesn't have to be an inevitable destiny. Scientists know exactly what triggers the disease. And everyone can do something against the biggest threats.

Mammogram images of breast cancer
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Wüstneck

Destiny is in your hands

Being diagnosed with cancer is a shock that hits you hard. And yet almost half of all cancer cases could be prevented. Smoking alone triggers about every fifth tumor. The toxic cigarette smoke does not only cause lung cancer but many other kinds of tumors as well. Smoking is the most frequent self-imposed cause for cancer, but not the only one.

Being overweight increases cancer risk

In second place of cancer-causing agents: obesity. Why it causes cancer? Enhanced insulin levels increase the risk of almost all sorts of cancer, especially when it comes to kidney, gall bladder, and esophagus cancer. Overweight women produce increasing amounts of female sex hormones in their fat tissue and hence have a higher risk for uterine or breast cancer.

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Don't be a couch potato!

People who don't move enough are especially likely to get cancer. Long-term studies show that exercising prevents tumors. After all, working out lowers the insulin levels while preventing you from gaining weight. And it doesn't have to be high-performance sport. Even just going for a walk or a bike ride makes a big difference.

Couchpotato-Teenager watching TV
Image: Fotolia/runzelkorn

Don't drink too much!

Alcohol promotes tumors in the oral cavity, the throat and the esophagus. The combination of smoking and drinking is especially dangerous and increases the risk of cancer up to a hundredfold. While drinking one glass of wine a day is healthy and supports the cardiovascular system, you shouldn't drink more than that.

Don't eat too much red meat!

Red meat can cause intestinal cancer. The exact cause has not yet been determined, but long-term studies show a significant correlation between the consumption of red meat and intestinal cancer. Beef is especially dangerous, but even pork can cause cancer to a minor degree. Meat consumption increases the risk of cancer one and a half times. Fish, however, prevents cancer.

No more BBQ?

When barbecuing meat, carcinogenic substances are released, such as polycyclical aromatic hydrocarbons. It has been proven in animal experiments that these chemical compounds can cause tumors. However, long-term studies with humans have not yet unambiguously proven the same. It's possible that consuming the meat causes cancer, not the way it is prepared.

Women eating hamburger
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Avoid fast food

A good diet consisting of vegetables, fruits and dietary fibers can prevent cancer. However, when conducting long-term studies researchers found that a healthy diet has less impact on cancer prevention than previously assumed. It only decreases the risk of getting cancer by a maximum of 10 percent.

Too much sun is harmful

The sun's UV radiation can penetrate genomes and change them. While sunscreen protects the skin from sunburn, the skin absorbs too much radiation as soon as it starts getting tanned.

Cancer triggered by modern medicine

X-rays harm genomes. With an ordinary radiogram the exposure is only minor. But it's a different story for computed tomography, which you should only undergo when necessary. Magnetic resonance imaging is harmless. But did you know that you're even exposed to cancer-causing radiation when you're on an airplane?

Cancer triggered by infection

Human papillomaviruses can cause cervical cancer. Hepatitis B and C can cause hepatocytes to degenerate. The bacterium helicobacter pylori (pictured below) settles in your stomach and can cause stomach cancer. But not all hope is lost. You can get vaccinated against many of these pathogens and antibiotics help fight helicobacter pylori.

Microscope image of helicobacter bacteria
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Better than its reputation

The oral contraceptive pill slightly increases the risk of getting breast cancer, but at the same time it strongly decreases the risk of getting ovarian cancer. All in all ,the pill is more protective than harmful, at least when it comes to cancer.

A true stroke of fate

But even if you do everything right, you're never completely immune from getting cancer. Half of all cancer cases are caused by the wrong genes or simply age. Brain cancer is particularly likely to be inherited.