Of course, the big story here and elsewhere has been the Susan G. Komen Foundation decision to defund Planned Parenthood earlier this week. Although the Foundation has apologized for this public relations disaster, all they have really agreed to is to allow Planned Parenthood to apply for future grants. Who knows if the Foundation will approve future grants given what we have learned about their organization this week?
In any event, I can understand the furor and backlash against Komen. They have allowed politics to influence their grant making process. And they have caused everyone to step back and really look at how truly effective they were as a grant making organization with the stated goal of finding a cure for breast cancer.
While I believe that it is laudable that government agencies, for-profits, not-for-profits, foundations and universities collaborate to find a cure for cancer, we should put in at least as much time and effort into prevention. We live in a society that demands and craves “silver bullet” solution to our problems and health issues. We want to find “cures” for diseases that we really truly don’t understand.Follow me below the fold for a discussion and review of cancer prevention tips and strategies as it relates to diet and nutrition.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman's life is approximately 1 in 8 (12%).
The American Cancer Society's most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States are for 2012:
• About 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
• About 39,510 women will die from breast cancer
After increasing for more than 2 decades, female breast cancer incidence rates decreased by about 2% per year from 1999 to 2005. This decrease was seen only in women aged 50 or older, and may be due at least in part to the decline in use of hormone therapy after menopause that occurred after the results of the Women's Health Initiative were published in 2002.
While men can also be afflicted with breast cancer, it is uncommon. About 2,140 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in men in 2011. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
When we look at the data for all forms of cancer, about 300 of every 100,000 Americans develop cancer each year, which means the U.S. has the seventh highest cancer rate in the world.
Our lifestyles have a lot to do with our low ranking. According to Alice Bender, MS RD of the American Institute for Cancer Research, “Americans are more likely to be overweight, drink more alcohol, and don't engage in as much physical activity as people in other parts of the world." The good news is that scientists and cancer researchers estimate up to one-third of the most common cancers can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, being more physically active, and eating more healthfully. Lets have a look at what some of the leading cancer agencies say about cancer prevention and food choices.
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is based in Seattle, WA and a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases. They have published 10 Tips For Breast Cancer Prevention. One of their tips is embrace a plant rich diet.
Embrace a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in sugared drinks, refined carbohydrates and fatty foods.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) says to eat more fruit and vegetables.
Compared with people who consume a diet with only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts as part of a healthful diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases, including stroke and perhaps other cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers.
The American Institute for Cancer Research states there is strong evidence that a diet filled with a variety of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans helps lower risk for many cancers.
Vegetables and fruits are low in calories, which help us get to and stay a healthy weight. Whole grains and beans are rich in fiber and moderate in calories, which also help in weight management efforts. That is why AICR recommends filling at least 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans.
The American Dietetic Association concludes that a well-balanced vegetarian diet is an important tool in the effort to prevent cancer.
Active research indicates that it is not only the vitamins, minerals, or fiber that make plant foods beneficial to health, but the phytochemicals found in these food as well. As a result, it is difficult to conclude whether it is the decrease in meat and/or fat, the increase in fruit and vegetables, or other lifestyle factors that provide the beneficial effect in vegetarians; most likely they all play a role.
The Cancer Project concludes that what we eat and how we treat our bodies on a daily basis will have a very powerful effect on our health and quality of life and the prevention of chronic diseases.
Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes all have important nutrients and other cancer-fighting substances like phytochemicals and pectin that strengthen immune function and destroy cancer-causing substances before they cause harm. Research has shown that people who eat a diet free of animal products, high in plant foods, and low in fat have a much lower risk of developing cancer.
I write this dairy because I have lost family and close friends to cancer. I wouldn’t wish this wicked disease on my worst enemy. In 2004, my father was diagnosed with cancer of the throat. This was a little surprising since he never smoked or drank alcohol - which are considered risk factors. The tumor was not operable so the decision was to use radiation as the sole means of treatment. I can still vividly recall helping to wheel his gurney into the radiation room and seeing the hi-tech equipment and thick walls to prevent radiation leakage. If you have been through this process, you will know what I mean when I say that it is chilling and sobering. My dad died a few months after the radiation treatments ended.
I also remember a young women waiting to get radiation treatment after my father’s appointment. She was in her early twenties as best I could estimate. It was shocking to see someone so young battling this dreaded disease. It is my fervent hope that we can begin a conversation in this country about healthier eating patterns as we are literally eating ourselves to death.
Although I have enjoyed a vegetarian diet now for over twenty years, I know that this is not an easy choice for many people. I get it that we are a meat centric culture and likely to stay that way for a long time. I appreciate that the choices are sometimes limited in the stores and restaurants and that it is just easier to go a fast food restaurant on the way home after a stressful day and order a burger, soda and fries.
But if you do make an effort to look at the evidence, a plant rich diet loaded with unprocessed fruits, vegetables , beans, and whole grains can be a helpful part of an overall lifestyle to minimize your cancer risks.
Finally, I'm a chef and have given a lot of cooking classes. I'm happy to mentor anyone by phone or email if they are interested in exploring new food choices and wanting to incorporate more vegetarian meals in their lifestyle.