While this field of study is certainly interesting and cutting-edge, we need to seriously ask ourselves what genetics mean in the grander scheme of life. Here’s what I mean by this…
Many people believe that if they have a genetic predisposition for a certain disease, then they might as well sit back and wait for it to happen, because no matter what they do, their future is already determined.
This thinking is not in line with the science of wellness at all. While the medical science is clear that our genes play an important role in our health, research resoundingly says that lifestyle in most cases has a far greater impact on health outcomes than we may give it credit for. In fact, even in cases where genetic predisposition is strong, lifestyle can make a world of difference in whether or not you develop or recover from a disease.
Nowhere is this idea better demonstrated than with a disease like cancer.
A study recently published in the prestigious JAMA Oncology confirms that lifestyle habits can significantly reduce the risk of 13 types of cancer.
The researchers examined data from nearly 136,000 men and women to examine the links between “healthy lifestyle pattern” and incidence of cancer and death. They defined healthy lifestyle pattern as:
- Never smoking or having quit;
- No or moderate drinking (one or fewer drinks per day for women; two or fewer drinks per day for men);
- Healthy body mass index (BMI) of 18.5–27.5; and
- Weekly aerobic exercise of at least 75 minutes (vigorous intensity) or 150 minutes (moderate intensity)
Participants who met all four of these criteria were considered low risk. All others were high risk. Overall, 16,531 women and 11,731 men fell into the low-risk category. The remaining 73,040 women and 34,608 men were grouped as high risk.
The researchers calculated the proportion of cancer cases that would not occur if everyone adopted the lifestyle habits practiced by the low-risk group. They determined that 20–40 percent of cancer cases—and 50 percent of cancer deaths—could potentially be prevented with healthy lifestyle.
Looking at specific cancers, they found that lifestyle habits could prevent:
- Lung cancer by 82 percent in women and 78 percent in men;
- Colorectal cancer by 29 percent in women and 20 percent in men;
- Pancreatic cancer by 30 percent in women and 29 percent in men;
- Bladder cancer by 36 percent in women and 44 percent in men.
In women, breast cancer cases could drop by 4 percent and in men, fatal prostate cancer by 21 percent.
The researchers concluded, “A substantial cancer burden may be prevented through lifestyle modification. Primary prevention should remain a priority for cancer control.”
This is really great news! It reaffirms that making sacrifices and choices that are tough—like getting up at the crack of dawn to work out because it’s the only time you can, or avoiding cookies and ice cream even though you’re a self-proclaimed junk food junkie, or quitting smoking after 30 years—really does pay off.
When Genetics Win Out…
I want to make another important point. Sometimes you simply can’t escape genetics, no matter how good your diet and lifestyle. Cancer is a formidable beast, and many times, it can’t be tamed. However, when that happens, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and positive attitude can still play a role in how well you recover and in your risk of recurrence.
How you respond when those terrible words “you have cancer” come out of your doctor’s mouth will make all the difference in the world with regard to your cancer journey.
My message to you is this: Do what you need to do to place yourself into the “low-risk” category for cancer. Quit smoking—it’s the most important thing you can do right now. In addition, clean up your diet. If you need help getting started, hire a nutritionist for a one-time consultation to get you on the right path. Start walking around your neighborhood to get some exercise. And most importantly, be grateful for your blessings and enjoy every day and every moment of your incredible life, no matter what gets thrown your way.
Song M and Geiovannucci E. JAMA Oncol. 2016 May 19. [Epub ahead of print]