Cancer Risk: In Your Genes or Your Own Hands?

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‘Cancer is a genetic disease—that is, cancer is caused by certain changes to genes that control the way our cells function, especially how they grow and divide.’  

The National Cancer Institute (US)

Main Points

  • Cancer is our genes but ‘epigenetics’ shows that we affect how they work;
  • One lifestyle factor – obesity – increases the risk of 13 types of cancer;
  • Eating too much sugar (high carb) is linked to obesity and increased cancer risk;
  • Poor diet is just one lifestyle factor we can modify to reduce our cancer risk.

If you’d like the full monty on all the factors that influence our genes and risk of cancer – and how to avoid them – skip straight to a summary of our easy-to-read eBook: Cancer: Make Your Own Luck.

From Pot Luck to Prevention

Cancer is indeed in the genes but the quote at the top (a recent one from the US National Cancer Institute’s website) doesn’t tell the whole story. Twenty years ago, cancer experts began to accept that how genes work has a lot to do with how we live. In other words, we can affect what our genes express including cells that become cancerous.

Years ago, a large UK study analysed cancer incidence rates from 1993 to 2007, and found that some 40% of cancers in women and 45% in men were linked to factors such as smoking, alcohol, diets low on fruit, vegetables and fibre, diets high in red and processed meat, obesity, lack of fitness, exposure to carcinogens and hormones like estrogen. This is the science of ‘epigenetics’ or how we and our environment influence how our genes work.

A similar US study found that 41% of cancers in women and 63% of cancers in men were associated with lifestyle factors. Other studies showed similar results.

Many people believe that cancer is down to fate or is ‘in the genes,’ and that it is the luck of the draw whether they get it… …looking at the evidence, it’s clear that about 40% of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change’.

Max Parkin MD, Professor of Epidemiology Queen Mary University

Many studies have shown that women who exercise have a 30 to 40% lower risk of breast cancer than their sedentary peers. That’s because estrogen and Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) stimulate tumour growth, and unfit, overweight women tend to have higher levels of these hormones.

‘You hold the cards to reducing your cancer risk’

That’s a headline on the Australian Cancer Council’s website. It says that getting and keeping our weight under control has a major impact on reducing ‘the risk of 13 cancers including breast, bowel, kidney, liver, endometrial, ovarian, stomach, thyroid, oesophagus, gallbladder and pancreas, prostate and blood.’

But is it really that simple? We’ve all lost loved ones or friends to cancer. Often vital, healthy people. My niece died at 40 years of age. She was a vegetarian who ate only organic foods from an early age, never smoked or drank, wasn’t overweight and lived a healthy life.

So it looks like we can reduce our overall risk by around 30 – 50%. Yet, we can’t predict who will fall into the other group that sees no benefit from these actions. It turns out that there’s far more to reducing cancer risk than the obvious lifestyle changes.

Elephants in the Room

Sugar is one elephant in the room

Sugar is one of them. A 10-year study by Dutch researchers found that sugar traps cancer in a ‘vicious cycle’ which makes it more aggressive and harder to treat.

Ray Schilling, a member of the research team, stressed that ‘there’s a connection between the consumption of sugar and starchy foods and various cancers in man … It is insulin resistance due to sugar and starch over-consumption that is causing cancer.’ Insulin Resistance is a precursor to diabetes.

Given our ultra-processed food chain, it takes a determined effort to cut out that hidden sugar that lurks in lite milk and yoghurt, breakfast cereals, pasta sauces, salad dressings, health bars, dried fruit, fruit juice and more.

‘…there’s a ‘connection between the consumption of sugar and starchy foods and various cancers in man … It is insulin resistance due to sugar and starch over-consumption that is causing cancer.’

Dr Ray Schilling, Physician, Researcher, Author NetHealthBook

Sunshine of My Life

Studies have shown that Vitamin D deficiency raises our cancer risk, and the risk of death from all causes. A Swedish study found that ‘non-smokers who avoided sunshine had the same life expectancy as smokers who soaked up the most rays.’

In the SLIP SLOP SLAP SLIDE SEEK era, Vitamin D deficiency is rampant especially in people over 60, where it’s easily confused with early stages of dementia. There’s much more to sunshine than Vitamin D: it boosts the immune system, maintains bone strength, fights off depression, reduces stress and more.

..avoiding the sun is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking.’

Pelle Lindqvist, MD, Karolinska University Hospital, Huddinge, Sweden

Scanning for Cancer

Too much ionising radiation is another elephant

We’re told to reduce our exposure to sunlight, but there are no warnings about our overexposure to x-rays. In the last 3 decades, in Australia our exposure has gone up by 600%, due to an explosion in the use of high dose tests such as CT (Computer Tomography) and nuclear imaging.

In the cancer stakes, Australia is a world leader. We have 33% more cancers than the USA, 40% more than Canada, 47% more than the UK, 60% more than Sweden and 90% more than Japan. Australia also has more CT-scanning machines than any other country in the world (except Japan, which is odd): 67 CT scanners per million population, compared with 44 in the US, 16 in New Zealand and fewer than 10 in the UK.

Could there be any link between this and our world-beating cancer rates and our world-beating rates of ionising radiation exposure, Down Under? Find this out and everything you need to know about causing and preventing cancer in my ebook, Cancer: Make Your Own Luck.

Cancer: Make Your Own Luck


Discover how Aussie boomers can take control & cut the risk


One Third of Cancers Caused by Lifestyle Factors, Medscape
Many cancers tied to lifestyle factors, Reuters
Why isn’t sugar portrayed as bad like cigarettes? Ray Schilling, Quora
Avoiding Sun as Dangerous as Smoking, Medscape
The government medical policy that’s killing us: CT v MRI. Michael Pasco, New Daily
Global Cancer Data by Country, World Cancer Research Fund
Radiation risk from medical imaging, Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

Kim Brebach

Kim Brebach

Hi, I’m Kim Brebach, boomer, information researcher, technical writer and Joiner of Dots at M&M. In my spare time, I review wines and love to cook.

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