The growth and spread of cancer is a slow, multi-stage process. Usually it takes several years for a tumour to reach the size of a cubic centimetre, although on rare occasions this can also happen within months. From this point, further growth continues at a much faster pace, but sometimes the tumour grows so slowly that it isn’t detected for years, if not decades. Why does this happen – fast for one person, slow for another? At present, we still don’t have a proper answer.
It’s impossible for a tangible growth that can be seen with the naked eye to develop in completely healthy tissue overnight. This is, no doubt, the result of a lengthy process that occurs under the guise of seemingly benign mask. Disruptions in cell growth can be varied, but not all necessarily lead to the development of a tumour. It’s been estimated that a cell that could potentially become a tumour forms in the body every day, but that doesn’t actually happen. Just as the sight of one swallow, doesn’t necessarily mean that spring has arrived, one mutation doesn’t necessarily always lead to a cascade of changes that would lead to a malignant transformation. Apparently, some kind of external or internal stimuli are required to initiate this process. For example, we are well aware that smoking has been proven to be linked to a greater risk of cancer, but not all smokers contract cancer. Why? What is different in these people? What protects them yet doesn’t prevent its spread in other smokers? These and similar questions are currently the focus of scientific research around the world and much of this work is aided by genetic and molecular biology methods to discover answers, which are often difficult for the human mind to comprehend.
Malignant tumours usually develop in the second half of one’s life. In Latvia, nearly 90% of tumours develop in people over the age of 50, and this can naturally be explained by the accumulation of mutations, a weakened immune system, harmful habits and other health problems that have developed over the course of one’s life. But why do children and young people become ill? What is so different about them?
A tumour diagnosis is usually like a bolt from the blue, especially if the person has genuinely lived a healthy life (has abstained from cigarettes and alcohol, has followed a balanced and healthy diet and has been physically active) and has no relatives who have been diagnosed with a malignant tumour. How could this have happened? The person begins looking for reasons, sometimes believing in irrational explanations such as a curse, a punishment from God, atoning for sins and similar notions.
It has been estimated that in at least one third, if not half of all cases, the cause of a tumour could have potentially been avoided. That is to say, these factors that influence a tumour are often related to our voluntary (in rare cases, involuntary) choices regarding our lifestyle (smoking, the use of alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle, the consumption of hyper-caloric and fatty foods, living in a polluted environment, sexual hygiene, the ignoring of state-sponsored screening programmes, etc.). Across the world, a variety of government institutions and NGOs regularly announce recommendations to lessen the risk of cancer. The European Commission has published its own recommendations:
- Don’t smoke, or, if you are a smoker, quit. Regardless of your age and habits, by quitting smoking over time you’ll considerably lessen your risk of not only developing lung cancer, but also a great number of other cancers (oral, throat, laryngeal, liver, cervical);
- Have a healthy, balanced diet. That means that your diet should include lots of fibre, natural antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. All food should be freshly prepared with only a minimum of salt or preservatives and salted, pickled, tinned or processed foods should be avoided. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible and limit your use of sugar;
- Limit your alcohol consumption;
- Maintain a healthy body weight. When possible, increase your physical activity and eat more fibre-rich food and less fatty foods;
- Protect yourself from ultraviolet radiation. Sunlight is essential for everyone, but excessive sunbathing and the use of tanning beds have been proven to increase your risk of a tumour. Small children and teenagers are especially vulnerable;
- Avoid known carcinogens at work and in everyday life, follow all relevant safety precautions and use protective clothing or equipment when necessary;
- Vaccinate yourself against illnesses known to be linked to cancer, such as hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus (HPV);
- Actively participate in organised cancer screening programmes. Unfortunately, even supposedly learned and informed people have a tendency to ignore these programmes, falsely believing that they don’t apply to them.
By following these recommendations, you will have done everything possible to reduce or even completely eliminate all currently known factors that can lead to cancer in your body.
There are many tumours with nuanced differences and their triggering mechanisms are still unclear. That’s why no one can give you a 100% guarantee that you won’t develop one of these malignant tumours, even if you strictly adhere to a healthy lifestyle. However, by doing so you can at least find comfort in the fact that you haven’t in any way provoked, promoted or encouraged the growth of this disease.
If a healthy body must also have a healthy spirit, then this spirit (our consciousness, mind and actions) must also look after the health and well-being of our bodies.