In a culture obsessed with celebrities, the actions of the famous tend to invoke a good bit of opinion. Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy in response to the revelation that harmful mutations in her BRCA1 gene dramatically increased her chances of developing breast cancer was certainly no exception.
While many applauded Jolie’s decision, describing it as “brave,” others questioned it. Notably, another celebrity—singer Melissa Etheridge, who battled breast cancer several years ago and also has mutations in her BRCA1 gene—called the actress’s decision “the most fearful choice you can make.”
Etheridge argued that environmental factors play a significant role in the development of cancer. She advises people to “really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels.”
While genetic tests, such as the BRCA tests, obviously offer a deeper insight into an individual’s health, the singer’s advice is also sound. There are a number of preventative steps a person can take to better the chances that cancer will not develop.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) outlines a number of these preventative measures. Here are a few steps people can take to better their odds:
Good ‘ol exercise. This is a pretty basic one. An active body is going to be in better condition than an inactive one.
The NCI reports that there is strong evidence that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the colon and breasts. Studies also indicate that there are links between physical activity and reduced risks of endometrial (lining of the uterus) cancer, as well as lung and prostate cancers.
Current Institute-funded studies are looking at the role of physical activity in cancer survivorship and quality of life.
This is old news. Smoking is bad for your health. Of the more than 7,000 compounds in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful. Smoking has been linked to many kinds of cancers, including cancers of the lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach and cervix.
Cruciferous vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, other nutrients and chemical compounds known as glucosinolates. Glucosinolates break down into biologically active compounds that are currently being studied for possible anticancer effects. While some of these compounds have shown such effects in cells and animals, the results of studies involving humans have been less clear.
To play it safe, eat your vegetables. Specifically, the cruciferous ones. That includes brussel sprouts, watercress, wasabi, turnips, cabbage, collard greens, kale, horseradish, rutabaga, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes and bok choy.
Red wine provides a rich source of biologically active phytochemicals. Some such compounds found in red wine are thought to have antioxidant or anticancer properties.
Research on the antioxidants has shown that they may help inhibit the development of certain cancers. They have been shown to reduce tumor incidence in animals, and inhibit the growth of varying kinds of cancer cells in culture. Recent animal studies suggest this anti-inflammatory compound might be an effective chemo-preventive agent.