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Cancer Prevention

  • Introduction

    What is cancer?

    Cancer is a disease that results from the uncontrolled growth of certain cells in the body. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells continue to multiply and produce more cells that can harm the body. Cancer can affect almost any cell in the body. It can invade surrounding tissues and spread to other parts of the body (called metastasis).

    How do cancer cells form?

    There are several genes that regulate the growth of the cells in your body. Some genes lead to cell growth, while other genes suppress cell growth or destroy damaged cells. Mutations in these genes lead to uncontrolled cell growth and formation of cancer cells.

    There are 2 types of mutations that can lead to cancer. The most common is called acquired mutations, which occur due to damage to the genes in the cells. The second type is called germline mutations, which are inherited from parents to their children and passed on through generations.

    Cancer prevention efforts focus on reducing the risk of acquired mutations from occurring.

    Causes of common cancers

    Cancer is not contagious like the flu or a cold. You cannot catch cancer from someone who has it. So what causes cancer, and how can you prevent cancer?

    Many cancers develop because of lifestyle habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or eating too much fatty food, especially those containing animal fat. Some cancers may be caused by environment factors such as sunlight, radiation and industrial chemicals. Other risk factors for cancer include certain types of viral infections, obesity, and a family history of cancer. These lifestyle habits and environmental exposures can damage our cells and lead to the formation of cancer cells.

  • Just hearing the word cancer often strikes fear and anxiety in people’s hearts. However, you can take charge of your health. There are several cancer prevention strategies that you can undertake. By leading a healthy lifestyle and avoiding certain risk factors, you can prevent the onset of many cancers.

    Even if you have cancer, treatment can be effective when cancer is detected early, and is more effective when given at an early stage. Recognising the early warning signs and going for regular check-ups can save your life.

    Lower your risk of cancer by leading a healthy lifestyle.

    Avoid smoking – if you smoke, try to quit

    Tobacco smoke exposure is one of the key risk factors for lung cancer, contributing to over 80% of global lung cancer cases. Tobacco smoke from cigarettes, pipes or cigars contains harmful chemicals known as carcinogens – a type of compounds directly responsible for damaging cells and affecting the cell’s ability to function and to divide normally. Over time, the damaged cells may become cancerous. Apart from smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke can also lead to cell damage that may eventually lead to cancer formation. The risk of developing lung cancer increases with the exposure to tobacco smoke. Apart from lung cancer, smoking has also been associated with higher risk for various types of cancer. For example, based on a study by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the incidence of colorectal cancer was found to be significantly higher in current and former smokers. If you are trying to quit the habit, here are some tips that may help:

    • Ask your family and friends to support your efforts to quit
    • Throw away all your cigarettes and lighters
    • Join a programme or support group that helps smokers to stop
    • Spend more time with non-smoking friends in smoke-free places

    Consume a variety of healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables

    Choose dark green leafy vegetables and orange-yellow fruits as these contain greater amounts of vitamins and minerals. Eat more fibre by choosing wholemeal bread or wholegrain cereals such as brown rice. Low-fibre diets have been linked to colon cancer. Having a diet rich in high-fibre food can help you lower your daily calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight.

    Reduce consumption of red meat and processed meat

    The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) has classified both red meat and processed meat as causes of colorectal cancer. Haem iron (found in red meat) and animal fat are both classified by WCRF/AICR as possible causes of colorectal cancer. Try to limit the amount of red meat you consume, especially for processed meats. The recommended intake of red or processed meat is 350 – 500g a week.

    Maintain a healthy weight

    Reduce your intake of foods that are high in fat or sugar, and control your daily calorie intake. Being overweight increases the risk of cancer. Belly fat has also been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer, regardless of body weight. Obesity has been associated with increased risk of certain cancers such as colon and rectum cancer.

    Stay active and exercise regularly

    Engaging in regular physical activity is associated with lowering the risk of many diseases, including cancer. Being physically active is beneficial to our overall well-being, and can help us to control weight, maintain healthy bones and muscles, as well as improve both our physical and mental health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults “get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination each week”.

    Protect yourself from the sun by using sunscreen or sunblock

    Without sunscreen protection, even a limited exposure to the sun’s radiation can cause damage to your skin. Sun exposure harms your skin in two key ways: UVA (ultraviolet A) rays speed up aging, while UVB (ultraviolet B) rays burn your skin. Without protection, this can result in long-term damage like wrinkles, sagging skin and age spots. More serious health complications include hypersensitivity reactions to sunlight, as well as skin cancer. When choosing a sunscreen, look out for the number of + signs listed, which indicate a higher level of protection against UVA rays. To lower your risk of skin cancer from UV exposure, try to use a sunscreen with PA level of at least +++.

    Reduce exposure to cancer-causing substances

    If you work with cancer-causing substances, always comply with safety regulations to reduce exposure to these substances. The higher the exposure, the higher the risk of cancer. Wear personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, or goggles) to minimise exposure, and learn how to handle the equipment or the chemicals properly. Pay attention to safety drills and learn what to do in case of emergencies.

    Moderate alcohol intake

    The Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends no more than 2 standard drinks a day for men, and no more than 1 standard drink a day for women. A standard drink is roughly equivalent to a can of beer (285ml), a glass of wine (120ml), or a measure of spirits (30ml). High alcohol consumption is one of the main risk factors for developing Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which is the most common primary liver cancer.

    Look out for early warning signs of cancer

    If you notice any of the following, let your doctor know immediately:

    • A lump (which may not be painful) in the breast, neck, armpit, groin, or anywhere else on your body
    • A sore or an ulcer anywhere on your body, including your mouth, that does not heal properly
    • Recent changes in the size, shape or colour of a mole on your skin
    • Abnormal bleeding from your nose or any other part of your body, or blood in your stool

    Ensure early detection of cancer through regular cancer screening

    Regular screening can help to detect certain cancers early, even before any symptoms start to show. Early detection allows patients to under treatment early, allowing for better treatment outcomes. Some cancers may start as pre-cancerous lesions with little or no notable symptoms, such as colon, cervical, and breast cancer. By the time symptoms start to show, the cancer may have developed to an advanced stage. Adults aged 50 years and above are recommended to undergo a stool test for blood, or colonoscopy for colon cancer screening.

    Women are advised to:

    Men are advised to:

    • Screen regularly for prostate cancer via a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test if they are of age 50 – 70 years’ old

    Our Specialists

  • Our Specialists

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    There are 31 SpecialistsView All