Can Cancer Be Prevented?
Cancer is largely caused by nutritional and environmental factors (85–90%). In short, getting cancer is not a destiny, but a consequence that is greatly influenced by lifestyle. We can help protect ourselves from cancer with small changes to our lifestyles. This includes exercising, being active, being careful about our diet, in other words, paying attention to our health. In addition to good nutrition and exercise, it is a good idea to pay attention to the following recommendations.
Sunlight: Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers and is directly related to sun exposure. In the past, it was commonly believed that we should stay out of the sun between 10am and 4pm when the sun’s rays are the strongest, but in recent years this approach has changed with the understanding of the importance of vitamin D. The best way to increase your vitamin D levels is exposure to sunlight. Natural sulfated vitamin D is produced in the skin through the effect of the UVB rays coming from the sun.
However, the sun’s rays must come directly and not encounter any physical obstacles for this to happen. So, contrary to popular belief, the right time to sunbathe is actually between 10am and 4pm, as sunbathing before or after these hours makes no contribution to vitamin D production. Sunbathing earlier or later than this stimulates the skin’s melanin cells and causes tanning, but does not contribute to vitamin D production. On the contrary, it disrupts the vitamin D production. It is recommended to sunbathe for short periods of time around noon in the summer without putting on any sunscreen, and to expose the hands, feet and face for 5–10 minutes at least 1–2 times a week throughout the year. Sunbeds should be strictly avoided.
Vaccinations: Getting vaccinated against some viral infections will reduce the risk of cancers related to those viruses.
• Hepatitis B and C: Liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. The viruses hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the primary causes of liver cancer. In particular, hepatitis B carriers’ risk of getting liver cancer is 200 times higher than that of non-carriers, which is a very dramatic difference. For this reason, vaccinations against these viruses help provide protection against liver cancer. The Turkish Ministry of Health vaccinates newborns. However, healthcare workers, hemodialysis patients, patients who are frequently given blood and blood products, homosexuals, and people with irregular sex lives who have not been vaccinated before are always at risk of contracting hepatitis and must be vaccinated too.
• HPV: This is a sexually transmitted virus that causes cancer of the cervix in women, and head and neck cancers in both genders. When provided at the right time, the vaccine’s protection level is high.
Risk-free sex life: Avoiding having multiple partners and using condoms are the top things you can do to protect yourself.
Regular health checks: You can help protect yourself from cancer through regular health checks, as early diagnoses make it much easier to treat. A cancer that does not show any symptoms can be identified in the early stage through regular checks performed once a year, even if you don’t have any complaints. Check-ups must be carried out in person and don’t only consist of tests. A thorough physical examination and questions about the person’s medical history, family history, and habits are indispensable parts of a good check-up.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO HEALTHCARE
Being healthy is not about being completely healthy with no diseases at all. Instead, it is a state of wellbeing. Studies conducted in recent years have shown that a person’s body, mind and soul are integrated, and an impairment in the function of one affects the others. When one of these three breaks down, the continuous communication between them causes the others to be affected as well. For this reason, it is necessary to think of the body as an integrated system, rather than focusing on its parts, and to consider it as a whole, assessing it in its entirety. A person’s daily habits, medication, stress levels, eating and drinking habits, exercise habits, daily activities, and social life all make up one system, which should be evaluated as a whole.
While a holistic approach to healthcare appears in many different concepts, such as functional medicine and complementary medicine, it is perhaps most dangerously associated with “alternative medicine”. In a chronic case, i.e., one that requires treatment, functional medicine and scientific medicine should work together. Scientific medicine provides the treatment, while functional medicine helps to prevent the recurrence of the disease and improve a person’s quality of life, attempting to compensate for past mistakes. It aims to design the most appropriate lifestyle for the person in the long term.
The concept of “functional medicine” was coined by Dr Jeffrey Bland and Dr Susan Bland. They brought an understanding to diseases that unlike a drug-based model focuses on the entire body system. They argued that the most common health problems of our time mostly originate from the interaction between genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors, and that treating them requires an understanding of these interactions. The Blands used this understanding to design appropriate treatments that are tailored for each individual, and focused on “how to maintain health” during this process, rather than “how to treat the disease”. With this method, individuals have to take a more active role in the treatment process rather than remaining passive.
Contrary to this understanding, medical schools and national health systems have traditionally sought to treat individuals, but in recent years, the idea of preventing illness in the first place has become much more important. During the global COVID-19 pandemic we have also seen that nature does not like the unhealthy. In the future, the holistic healthcare approach and the Blands’ argument will therefore be more important than ever. Instead of treating just the symptoms of the disease, it is also necessary to deal with the causes of the disease, to question the lifestyle choices of the individual, and to try to determine the nature of the process that lead to the development of the disease.
Most people think this sounds great; nowadays we all have expectations, such as living well, not ageing, and even escaping our own mortality. However, few people want to take an active role in fulfilling these expectations. Most want a diet program dictated by someone else or to be prescribed a few supplements that everyone can take. In the new age though, we really should be examined at a cellular level that considers our genetic, biochemical and hormonal characteristics and our lifestyles, and provides us with personalized prescriptions. When someone is diagnosed with a disease, they receive a personalized treatment. We need to do the same with healthy lifestyle programs. And what’s more, the individual must be involved in the decisions themselves. Increasing our awareness and having more say over our own bodies will make us more successful at staying healthy and treating any disease that may develop.
Doctors are trained to “treat people” at medical school, and they often believe that fields such as healthy living, nutrition, etc. are outside the scope of our work. However, they are also the ones who learn cell and human metabolism in every detail, as well as the integrated functioning and setup of the systems during their training. Thinking of people’s social lives, psychologies, and lifestyles independently of their illnesses and not caring about anything else but focusing only on the outcome, i.e. the symptoms and treatment of the disease, not only reduces our success rate, but also eliminates the control we have over our work and leads it to fall into the hands of third parties who are incompetent, profit-oriented, and do not care about human life.
Knowledge, experience and competence are no excuse; we have no excuse other than a lack of time! We can do something by creating the time and opportunity for our patients who are willing to listen. It is not that difficult to get individuals to think more inwardly and question their lifestyle choices, to refer them to real professionals in areas that are beyond our expertise so that they can get the proper support. It just requires us to listen to them for a few minutes and ask the right questions. And what patients need to do is even easier. Ignore all non-scientific suggestions and question both the suggested practices and those who suggest them. In every case that requires treatment, accept the wisdom of scientific medicine.
Functional medicine involves many methods backed by scientific evidence, as well as methods with no scientific basis at all. Therefore, it needs to be interpreted with caution. Get to know your body better and stay healthy…