90% of Cancer May be Preventable If You Have the Appropriate Knowledge

By Toshio Akitsu : MD, Director of Akitsu Clinic
December 14,2015
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(Photo by Kzenon/PIXTA)

Today in Japan one in two people develop cancer, and one in three die of cancer. According to an announcement from the National Cancer Center, almost 60% of cancer in Japanese males and 30% in females is preventable.

However, the percentage of people getting cancer screening in Japan is 30-40%, the lowest amongst the OECD countries. As we can see from this data, 60-70% of the cancer could be eliminated. Also, if people have the appropriate knowledge, 90% of cancer can be prevented.

So, what is the “appropriate knowledge?” Cancer cells are continually being developed by cells all throughout our bodies. Cells are developed and repaired on a regular basis. However, some of the cells which are damaged by inflammation and virus infection get repaired incorrectly. The more times inflammation or infection occurs, the more the cells get repaired; and as a result, the risk of cancer cells being developed increases.

For example, it is well known that smoking causes cancer of the lung and throat. This is because every time a person smokes, it causes strain on their throat or lung. While the risk of smokers developing lung cancer is four times more than that of non-smokers, the risk of throat cancer--the throat is where puffs of smoke cause the most strain--is about 30 times higher for smokers than non-smokers.

However, for cancer cells which are created this way to actually develop into cancer, there are two main factors which need to be present: (1) the cancer cells multiply too quickly or (2) the function of tumor suppressor genes and cells lose effectiveness. For prevention, it is important to stop the cancer cells from being developed in the first place, and not to lower the function of tumor suppressor genes and cells.

In order to accomplish this, it is important for each of us to have a proper understanding of our own predisposition, diet and habits. However, no matter how much we reduce the risks, cancer cells may suddenly become aggressive. We would then need to beat this with the appropriate understanding of medical examinations and treatment.

3 types of hereditary cancer

What most people misunderstand is the relationship between cancer predisposition and heredity. Only a few types of cancer occur due to heredity: bowel cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. If you have a close family member who died from one of these, you will need to be quite cautious. It is recommended to make a more conscious effort to undergo medical examinations for these types of cancer for early detection and treatment.

On the other hand, stomach cancer is hardly ever hereditary, and the main cause is salt. The more you eat salty Japanese foods, such as miso soup, pickled vegetables and marinated cod roe, the higher your risk of stomach cancer.

Have you ever gotten salt water in your eye while swimming at the beach and felt the stinging sensation? Salt severely damages cells. If you consume salt-laden food every day, your stomach wall gets irritated; and when your body is not able to repair the area damaged by too much salt quickly enough, you can consequently end up developing stomach cancer.

Another factor which can increase the chances of developing stomach cancer is your personality and the way you handle negativity. If you tend to be ill-tempered, you will be under more stress in your life. Stress can also aggravate the stomach and increase the risk of stomach cancer.

It is wrong to assume you are healthy because you play sports
It is wrong to think that since you are leading a healthy life, your risk of cancer or disease is low. In reality, intense sports such as running may actually reduce the activity of natural killer (NK) cells which attack cells infected by cancer cells or viruses.

Do "right" exercises

On the other hand, light exercise such as walking enhances the activity of NK cells and is very useful in cancer prevention. Several main factors effective in increasing the NK cell activity are: staying away from cigarettes, moderate alcoholic intake, high-quality sleep, laughing, leading a less stressful life and raising your body temperature.

In regard to medical examinations, I personally think it is satisfactory to undergo regular medical exams provided by the local government or private companies. The types of cancer which have caused the majority of cancer deaths can be found in these screenings.

There are reasons why some cancers, such as pancreatic cancer and liver cancer, are not included in population based screenings despite them causing higher rates of death. No accurate examination methods have been established yet. Even if these cancers are detected early, this early detection does not lead to extending the patients’ lives.

To put it another way, the types of cancer which are covered in population based screening are cancers which can be treated if detected in the early stages. So, if you have these screenings regularly, that should be considered adequate prevention of these types of cancers.

Also, there is a debate on whether or not cancer should be treated once it is detected. In general, I recommend surgery to remove the cancer for patients with stage 3 cancer. If the cancer has developed to stage 4 terminal cancer or if the patient is elderly, it might not be wise to operate.

In stage 4 cancer, the cancer has spread everywhere in the patient’s body, and a complete cure is unlikely even if the infected organs are removed. Therefore, if these patients want to live longer, they may choose not to have surgery or undergo chemotherapy. If the patients are elderly, there is also increased risk of them dying on the operating table.

One positive thing about cancer is that the patients remain conscious until their death. In my opinion, patients who die of cancer have better final life moments than those who eventually die after not knowing that they have late stage dementia or who may experience sudden death without a chance to say good-by to their loved ones.

Although it would be very difficult not to be devastated if we were told we had terminal cancer, the majority of us die of some kind of disease, so it is important to accept our fate no matter what and enjoy life as long as we possibly can.

However, if you want to fully enjoy your life, prevention and treatment are crucial. By not believing extreme information and by not making assumptions, we should make every effort to have early detection and undergo treatments with the proper knowledge and information.