Forget genes - 4 out of 5 cancers need not happen
Cancer expert Professor Ben Pfeifer reckons 80% of cancers are preventable. Lifestyle changes can make all the difference, he believes. He told Jim Pollard that through working with thousands of cancer patients, he identified key patterns in their lifestyles and has changed his own behaviour as a result.
Here are his TOP TEN TIPS (pop-up box)
Have you ever had a major illness yourself?
But you say you've you changed your diet/ lifestyle during the course of your work.
Yes, progressively, from around 12 years ago. There was no single event, but instead a combination of factors — such as seeing patients who had lived a lifestyle not dissimilar to my own, and who had fallen victim to serious illnesses — then seeing them respond to my suggestions and treatments.
There was a clear pattern emerging of "don'ts" — things absolutely not to do - and then, during treatment, the "dos", and so I decided to change my lifestyle.
Prior to this, what was putting you at risk from cancer or other illness?
Absolutely nothing different to many people in this high-stress age — a hectic lifestyle; rushing between patients and research projects; jetting around the world; missing meals; grabbing fast food when I could; missing sleep. They all take their toll.
So what did you do?
First, I strongly believe that changes are totally justified because each of us can age better, and get more out of life till the day we die. Look around at Western society, with much higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc. Do you want that earlier in life, or do you want to come and see a specialist much later? The earlier people can change their lifestyles, the greater influence they can have on their health in the long-term, but it's never too late.
Of course, there will always be the exception — someone who smoked and drank themselves silly, and yet still made it to 90, but how many of those are there around you now? I am a grandfather, and I love it — I just want to be around as long as possible, and stay as active as possible, to enjoy the gift of my grandchildren.
But you're surely not saying that all cancer can be avoided just by a few simple lifestyle changes?
Certainly not all cancers can be avoided by simple lifestyle changes, but it is estimated that up to 80% of all cancers can. Heredity might be a factor in some common cancers but is not as powerful a risk factor as age, constant negative stress, smoking, and diet.
Heredity is a factor in many common cancers but is not as powerful a risk factor as age, smoking, and diet. If you have one relative with cancer, that does not necessarily mean that you are prone to cancer. If, however, you have several relatives all with the same kind of cancer (especially breast, ovarian, or colon) there may be a genetic link. Even with breast cancer, which is known to have a familial tendency, only 5% to 10% are felt to be due to breast cancer genes.
I've had cancer myself. Are you saying it was my fault?
Of course, it was not all your fault.
So how does it work?
From a doctor's point of view, cancer is a disease of control. Cells are damaged in such a way that the normal controls over cell growth, maturation, function and cell death no longer operate correctly.
DNA acts as the cell's master computer program. It can be damaged in various ways by chemicals, viruses, random events, etc. Usually the cell repairs the damage and no permanent harm is done. Sometimes, however, the damage is in exactly the wrong place in the DNA and is not corrected. For a cell to become transformed into cancer usually requires many such injuries.
Once transformed, the cell can grow and multiply. Depending upon what cell functions have been altered, this cell can damage the local environment, spread to other sites (metastasize), or secrete substances that damage the host.
The biggest risk factor for cancer is aging. Almost all cancers are more common as you get older. The older you are the more chances for the DNA to have been damaged and for cells to have been transformed.
What are the lifestyle factors?
Tobacco is responsible for about one third of all cancers. There are multiple substances in tobacco smoke that directly damage cells or stimulate already damaged cells to multiply. All the tissues that come in contact with the smoke are susceptible, including the bladder, where the various toxins are excreted.
Certain individuals, because of the way they metabolize these toxins, are more susceptible to tobacco-related cancer. This helps to explain the paradox that not everybody who smokes gets cancer.
Improper diet is implicated in about one third of cancer. The best evidence suggests that diets with too much animal fat and too few vegetables, fruits and grains are responsible for this. Vitamins in fruits and vegetables help limit damage to the cellular DNA.
The increased fibre from grains and produce reduces the time that cells lining the intestines are in contact with possible toxic substances. Though often recommended, there is not as much evidence that adding vitamins to your diet prevents cancer as well as having a healthy diet.
Cancer is not an infection though certain viruses can indirectly cause cancer. Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus can damage liver cells so that they eventually become cancerous. The AIDS virus can weaken your immune system sufficiently that it can no longer eliminate cancers.
It used to be believed that the white blood cells of your immune system were the primary defense against cancer. That is no longer held to be true. Your body's response to cancer development is complex and involves many other systems besides the immune system. Having cancer is not a sign that your immune system is deficient.
What about stress?
There is a widespread belief that stress and cancer are linked. Well-controlled studies don't show that psychological stress causes cancer. It may be that people under chronic stress do not take as good care of themselves or may have less of a desire to live. Chronic stress does reduce the quality of life and generally reduces vitality. Hence, stress may compromise the response to cancer once it is established.
If someone is diagnosed with cancer, what should they know in advance?
Cancer is no longer a death sentence. Yes, it's a shock and a wake-up call, but with medicine today — conventional and complementary cures are more often possible — the way you react can influence the outcome.
Get educated. Get busy. Don't entrust everything to your oncologist or GP or any specialist. Get second and third opinions on the management of your special situation, and challenge everything.
There is clear scientific evidence that those who question, and who fight, live longer. Become educated in your own situation; understand the physical symptoms; the psychological problems; and know how to give yourself the best possible chance.
One lung cancer patient said to me: "You know, it has given me a new lease of lifeâ€¦."
Why? They had been living in the fast lane, never looking back or to the side; now, for the first time, something had told them to stop and reflect. They had to deal with a situation which can kill, but were not afraid of dying. After considerable soul-searching, they found they had done many things wrong during their life and had time to put them right.
A sense of humour helps.
You would be surprised at the humour and good spirits that exist in the face of adversity — often wry comments; sometimes a reverse take on life.
For many, the biggest challenge of prostate cancer is, effectively, chemical "neutering" (castration by hormonal therapy). Many men are unable to cope with the enlargement of their breasts, but I did have an actor who, by coincidence, was subsequently cast as a woman in a play. He told me: "For the first time in my career I feel and look like the character I am playingâ€¦."
You talk a lot about diet. (See the TEN TIPS pop-up box.) Do you supplement your own diet.
Yes — With coenzyme Q10, which appears to promote cell growth and protect cells from damage that could lead to cancer; with daily selenium; vitamins E and C and resveratrol; a multivitamin, and a supplement of Omega 3 fish oil.
And I take BioBran, a natural supplement made by breaking down rice bran using enzymes from an immune-boosting extract found in Shitake mushrooms. The resulting compound contains a unique blend of glyconutrients such as Arabinoxylan and has been shown, I believe, to be the most effective natural immune system supplement available today.
This supplement is at the heart of five years of research which I had published in the Journal of Urology, and which has shown to improve quality of life and survival rates in prostate cancer patients. So if it has this dramatic effect after cancer has struck, I reckon it has to be good to take as a precaution.
Knock on wood, so farâ€¦.
Professor Dr Ben Pfeifer is Director for Clinical Research at the renowned Aeskulap Clinic in Switzerland, and specialises in the treatment of cancer through both conventional and complementary means.
- See his TEN TIPS pop-up box.
- Hear and see Professor Pfeifer explain his latest research into complementary treatment for prostate cancer, published in the Swiss Journal of Urology at www.clearfeed.com/pfeifer/.
- Trials based on Professor Pfeifer's protocols are already under way at the Chiron Clinic, Harley Street in London and a further UK specialist plans to replicate them shortly.
- Professor Pfeifer was brought to the UK by The Really Healthy Company, the UK distributor of Biobran, the supplement used in his research.
Page created on February 1st, 2006
Page updated on December 1st, 2009