Cancer and Nutrition: Defining Risk and Reality

ericjohnson2 (1)There isn’t a person in modern society that is beyond the risk of cancer. So many factors contribute to its development, including stuff you’re born with and can’t undo. It’s enough to make a person throw their hands up and say… well, this is not the place for what I have said in those moments of feeling powerless. Especially when the risk becomes reality, as it has for people I love.

But stories can transform lives (check out Storlietelling). Inspired by the stories of our family and friends, as well as strangers, who face cancer with amazing courage and strength, let’s not let the risk define our reality.

So this month, I am embracing Breast Cancer Awareness Month, dedicating my blog and Facebook page to the women I love who have fought this disease. Some have won, some have lost, and I will continue to fight with them and for them.

The nutrition and cancer story is complicated, and it boils down to two very important points. First, cancer is not one disease. It’s breast cancer, thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, blood cancer, skin cancer, kidney cancer… you get the point. And for every body site at which cancer is initiated, there are varying levels of aggression, different factors that hurt or help, even different causes.

Second,  cancer develops over years and years. There is this nebulous thing called risk– how likely you are to have something bad happen to you. Multiple “events” or “exposures” happen over a lifetime that nudge, or shove, risk in one direction or another. Are genetics stacked against us before we are born? How are we fed and how do we eventually choose to eat? Do we smoke or live in a house where someone does? Do we eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains? Do we live in a polluted area? Do we get enough fiber? Do we chase the golden glow in tanning beds? Do we eat a “Dagwood” style meat and cheese sandwich every day for lunch? Is daily stress taking a toll on our bodies? Are we active throughout the day? Are we going beyond that 1-2 glasses of alcohol a day? I could go on and on… How much of which factors for how long in the right combination push your risk down versus up? Researchers have learned so much, and there is so much still to learn. What appears to be certain is this: Cancer prevention is a lifetime, multi-generational endeavor. 

So what’s a person to do? The next right thing.

  • Don’t smoke. If you do, quit. (As a former smoker, I am not being flippant about that. It is HARD, and it will give you and the people around you more years to enjoy life. There’s just no reason to kid yourself about the harm it does, or that it will somehow be easier to do later.)
  • Don’t drink excessively. I’m being vague here, but anything more than 1-2 drinks at a time is excessive. What a thing to say right before the holidays, I know!
  • Be active. Work out. Sweat. Run. Dance. Swim. Climb. Take activity breaks in your sedentary day. Turn off the TV and hand held devices and go outside more often. Most of us need to move more, although we all need a rest day during the week, too.
  • Most of us (I say this a lot because we are NOT all the same) need do eat more vegetables and whole grains, and eat less meat and added sugar. We need more healthy fats (nuts, fish, olives, oils) and less saturated and trans fat. Lean meats, dairy, and eggs have a place in a healthful diet. Sweets are an enjoyable way to end a meal. It’s about finding the balance of foods and amount of food that’s right for you.

There are no guarantees. Just choices to support research, early detection, and self care. So I’ll be posting more on cancer prevention and nutrition this month. Whether you are low risk, high risk, recently diagnosed, or a survivor, do the next right thing. You are not alone.

2 thoughts on “Cancer and Nutrition: Defining Risk and Reality

    1. Hi there Did you get my email to see if you would be interested in being the HOD DPG rep for SCAN? Ingrid

      Ingrid Skoog MS, RD, CSSD Oregon State University Dietetics Program 541-737-4006

      From: Toner RD <> Reply-To: Toner RD <> Date: Thursday, November 28, 2013 7:29 PM To: Ingrid Skoog <> Subject: [New comment] Cancer and Nutrition: Defining Risk and Reality

      YourTablecloth commented: “A very HAPPY THANKSGIVING to you and your family.”

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