Thursday, June 12, 2008

Protecting Kids From Cancer

A blog reader asked, "Do you ever wonder if Josie will get the same cancer you have? Do you want her to be tested to see if she has it in her DNA or whatever it is you test to find out, so that she can maybe prevent it from happening?"

I am worried that Josie will get breast cancer some day. Having a first-degree blood relative with breast cancer greatly increases your risk. But I have no history of breast cancer in my family, and only a few distant relatives with any kind of cancer at all. Only five to ten percent of all cancers are hereditary anyway.

When you hear about somebody getting cancer and learn that several of their relatives also had cancer, you probably assume that it's in the family genes. You're probably wrong. According to the World Health Organization, one out of three people will get cancer at some point in their lives. One out of three. So mathematically, the chances of having multiple family members with cancer are very high, regardless of whether cancer is hereditary in your family. It's statistical frequency, not family genes.

But I'm very cautious when it comes to my kids, so I've had genetic testing done for the breast cancer genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. The results? BRCA 1: "no mutation detected". BRCA 2: "genetic variant of uncertain significance". As far is this test is able to tell, my cancer is not, in fact, hereditary. So there's no point in getting Josie tested right now. When she gets older, there may be more advanced genetic testing that could show something that today's tests don't, so she might want to get tested later on.

There have been several studies in Korea on the breast cancer genes. It turns out that Korean women under 40 years of age have a much higher incidence of the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations than their Western counterparts. But the incidence of breast cancer among Korean women is much lower. That suggests that even if you do have the cancer genes, other factors (most likely diet) can prevent those genes from ever manifesting themselves as cancer.

I'm just talking about breast cancer because that's the scope of my knowledge. There may be tests for other cancers that can predict whether or not you'll have the same cancer as your parents. If you're really worried, talk to a genetic counselor. But I think the best thing to do is maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. As the Korean studies suggest, you can probably suppress cancer genes with diet.

Read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. This scientist did a number of studies showing that diet plays a bigger role in cancer than even carcinogens. He injected carcinogens into lab animals to give them liver cancer. Then he played around with the amount of animal protein in their diets. He found that the more animal protein these lab rats ate, the more their tumors grew. When he stopped feeding them animal protein, their tumors shrank.

This book covers thousands of studies conducted over more than two decades, all leading to the same conclusion: you can greatly reduce your risk for cancer, heart disease, and other "diseases of affluence" by adopting a whole grain, plant-based diet.

If you're worried about you or your kids getting cancer some day, here are some things you can do or tell your kids to do:

1) Don't smoke (smoking increases risk of all cancers, not just lung).
2) Don't drink alcohol.
3) Eat vegan.
4) Eat whole foods in their natural state - not packaged, processed, or fried.
5) Maintain a healthy weight (obese people have a far higher risk of cancer).
6) Minimize your exposure to chemicals known to be or suspected of being carcinogenic. Here's a list compiled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

I'm doing what I can now to minimize Josie's and Toby's risks for cancer, by instilling in them healthy eating habits to set them up for life. But after I'm gone, I won't be able to watch what they're putting into their bodies. I'll have to trust Tony, my extended family, and my friends to do what I would do to protect them from cancer as they grow up.

1 comment:

Francesca Giessmann said...

I have a friend visiting and we were talking about that.... Leonardo has me with cancer and his paternal grandfather.. .so: does he have more chance ??or since one in every 3 people will meet cancer in their lives ...did we take that burden from him..we took the card so he would not have to get it.. of course we know that is wishful thinking but my hope is that medicine will continue to my case.. if it wasnt for a drug that was approved only 8 years ago..I would not be here to write this....