What is it?

Cancer refers to more than 100 diseases affecting different parts of the body.

It results from a rapid multiplication of abnormal cells which are no longer under the normal controls governing tissue growth. These cells grow beyond their normal boundaries and can also invade other organs – a process called metastasis.

This group of diseases is a leading cause of death worldwide, and the numbers are continuing to rise. The most frequent types are:

In men: lung, stomach, liver, colorectal, oesophagus and prostate.

In women: breast, lung, stomach, colorectal and cervical.

What happens when cancer develops?

Amazingly, this dreaded disease arises from a single faulty cell. Normally, cells grow, divide and eventually die in a controlled fashion. In growing children there is a huge increase in the number of cells over time, but in adults the main purpose of cellular division is for the repair of injuries, or the replacement of damaged or aging cells.

Diseased cells differ from normal cells in two major ways:

* They are no longer under the normal control mechanisms, so they divide at a rapid rate and develop into tumours

* They are also able to move away from the tissue in which they first develop and invade other tissues.

The transformation from a normal to a diseased cell is a multi-step process leading from a pre-cancerous lesion to a malignant tumour. The causative factors can vary a lot, but the end result is the same: the DNA of the cell is damaged.

Actually, DNA is often damaged, but there are mechanisms for it to be mended within the cell, or damaged cells usually die off. If neither of these things happen, a cancerous or malignant cell results. This cell continues to divide uncontrollably, and may even invade other tissue (that is, they metastasize).

Remember, though, that not all tumours are malignant – these are known as benign tumours and differ in one important way from malignant tumours in that they are unable to metastasize.


External substances which can cause these diseases are called carcinogens. These can be divided into a number of categories:

* Physical: e.g. UV light and ionizing irradiation

* Chemical: e.g. asbestos, tobacco smoke

* Biological: e.g. viruses, contamination of food by mycotoxins which are produced by moulds, for example, aflatoxins which cause liver cancer.

In addition to these, uncontrolled cellular multiplication may be also be initiated by inherited genetic factors or ageing of cellular DNA.

Carcinogens are the major cause, and these are often avoidable by making correct lifestyle choices. This means that we can take responsibility for our health in many ways, and reduce the risk of getting this feared disease.

The good news!

Research is indicating that up to 70% of cancers can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle: a good diet, exercise, no smoking, moderate alcohol intake and weight control.

Today tobacco use remains the largest preventable contributing factor.

About 20% are due to chronic infections e.g. hepatitis virus (liver), HIV (Karposi sarcoma and lymphomas), schistosomes (bladder), Helicobacter pylori (stomach) and papilloma viruses (cervical).

Maybe we can protect ourselves from these as well by taking good care of out immune systems.

For basic guidelines on a healthy diet to protect your body against cancer, see our page on nutrition, food and supplements.

10 things you can easily do to reduce your risks

1) Eat enough fruit and vegetables.

These supply your body with phytonutrients, including antioxidants, which support your immune system and increase its ability to protect you against all diseases including cancer. Remember to include broccoli and cabbage!

2) Make sure that you are getting enough Omega-3 fats.

Many studies now indicate that it is necessary to maintain the correct balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats in order to reduce your risks.

In the average Western diet this ratio is completely out of kilter, with the Omega-6 levels being way too high. So it is necessary to pay attention to one’s intake of Omega-3 oils to restore the situation.

Eating fatty fish regularly is a good idea, but most people need supplements as well. Unfortunately, in our polluted environment many fish are themselves polluted so you should make sure that the fatty fish that you eat and any supplements that you consume are free of contamination.

3) Reduce your intake of processed and refined foods and increase your fibre intake.

Refined foods wreak havoc with your insulin levels, and controlling insulin levels is an important way to reduce your risk of this disease. Fibre also protects against colon cancer.

4) Maintain an ideal body weight

Obesity and overweight increases the risk of this and many other chronic diseases.

5) Make sure that you are getting enough Vitamin D.

Many new studies are now indicating that Vitamin D deficiency is a real problem, and that adequate amounts of this vitamin are protective.

6) Make sure that you get enough exercise.

This helps you to control your weight, and also help to keep insulin levels under control.

7) Protect yourself against environmental toxins.

This can be done reasonably effectively within your home, by using environmentally safe cleaning products etc. Be careful about using pesticides and even many synthetic air fresheners. In fact, pay attention to keeping your living space as natural as possible.

Outdoor pollution is more difficult to deal with, but try not to exercise where traffic is high.

8) Stop smoking!

Nothing good can come of it! Lung cancer is one of the biggest killers, and other forms of this disease are linked to smoking.

9) Get enough sleep.

Ideally one should sleep in a properly darkened room. This increases the amount of melatonin that we produce and melatonin has been found to be protective.

10) Limit your alcohol intake.

Alcohol damages the liver, and increases the incidence of mouth and throat cancer. More than one or two drinks per day is too much.

Unfortunately, for women the risk is even greater! A seven-year study conducted at Oxford University (UK) found that even low to moderate alcohol intake could be directly linked with up nearly 13 % of cancers of the breast, liver, rectum, upper respiratory tract and digestive tract.

The study group was large – 1 280 296 women, so the results need to be taken seriously.

All-round good health

Underpinning all these tips is the recommendation that you should keep yourself in general good health and support your immune system with a properly nutritious diet. Again, refer to our page on nutrition, food and supplements if you need to check this out. Click to Nutrition, Food and Supplements

Cancer interest groups

Frequently, interest groups are established as a support and information hub for people suffering from specific kinds of cancer.

As we make contact with different groups we will list their contact information here. Anyone interested in the specific cancer or, indeed, any cancer, might well find useful information at these sites as well. We invite you to explore them if you are interested.

  • The Mesothelioma Center offers the most up-to-date information on the dangers of asbestos exposure and the cancer, mesothelioma. It is essential for these cancer patients to have the proper diet and nutrition during treatment.