If you’re old enough to remember Smokey the Bear (or Smokey Bear, as he was actually named) you certainly remember the famous slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
Image from “The Orphan Cub” at https://smokeybear.com/en/smokeys-history/story-of-smokey
Smokey was an orphaned baby bear caught in a 1950 New Mexico wildfire. He was rescued, his burns eventually healed, and he became a national icon housed at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Posters depicting a friendly bear face beneath a Park Ranger hat brim quickly became familiar across America, and millions of youngsters watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 50’s learned the catchy anthem promoted in TV public service announcements. It was a powerful way to teach kids the importance of preserving the health of forests by being responsible on camping trips.
However, those same Saturday morning cartoon shows were interspersed with ads for Sugar Frosted Flakes, Hostess Cupcakes, Wonder Bread, Oreos, Kool-Aid and other sugary treats. On the adult side, TV commercials promoted cigarettes. In fact, a big selling point was medical “opinion”:
Don’t be foolish, take your doctor’s advice: Smoke a fresh cigarette. From the 1930s to the 1950s, advertising’s most powerful phrase—“doctors recommend”—was paired with the world’s deadliest consumer product. Cigarettes weren’t seen as dangerous then, but they still made smokers cough. To allay fears, tobacco brands hired throat “doctors” (that is, models dressed in white coats) to explain that dust, germs or a lack of menthol were to blame, not the cigs themselves.[i]
Thus, while we were learning to “prevent forest fires”, we also began playing with fire in our own bodies. The Third Expert Report from the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research shows how, and offers lifestyle guidelines on how to prevent cancer.
The Third Expert Report
Most cancers do not simply appear overnight. Even for people with no family history of cancer, or exposure to toxic carcinogens, years of habitual unhealthy lifestyles can accumulate to the point where they trigger cellular mutations with the capacity to spread and become deadly.
The 2018 Third Expert Report is titled “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective.” It is the work of an independent panel of experts that “…has been evaluating the evidence on cancer prevention for many years.”[ii] In fact, it is their third comprehensive analysis of worldwide research since 1997, which is quite a remarkable endeavor.
The report identifies 10 lifestyle “exposures” (lifestyle factors in our daily lives to greater or lesser degree):
- Wholegrains, vegetables and fruit
- Meat, fish and dairy products
- Preservation and processing of foods
- Non-alcoholic drinks
- Alcoholic drinks
- Other dietary exposures
- Physical activity
- Body fatness and weight gain
- Height and birthweight
- Lactation (breastfeeding)
They then examined all the available research on each factor in connection with cancer risk. Here are just a few examples of such connections that are spelled out in the report:
- Processed meat (e.g. salami, ham, bacon, bratwurst, hot dogs with nitrates or nitrites) increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Foods preserved with salting increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Foods that increase glucose (blood sugar) raise the risk of endometrial cancer in women.
- Food and drinks with fructose (sugar from honey and fruit) can lead to liver disease and pancreatic cancer.
- High-dose beta carotene supplements may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
Recommendations for preventing cancer
As you can imagine from the small sample just listed, the report is filled with very specific links between the elements that make up our daily lives and the odds for developing many different kinds of cancer. While this may sound discouraging, what’s great about the report is the particular recommendations for preventing such risks. They are well worth reading. According to their Medical and Scientific Adviser, Professor Martin Wiseman, “Our Cancer Prevention Recommendations come from our latest Expert Report and from the conclusions of an independent panel of experts – they represent a package of healthy lifestyle choices which, together, can make an enormous impact on people’s likelihood of developing cancer and other non-communicable diseases over their lifetimes.”[iii]
The report’s recommendations are organized into easy-to-read sections on the website, and include healthy weight, physical activity, and the proper foods, beverages and supplement use to maximize protective benefits. There is even a recommendation section if you already have cancer, treated or untreated, to promote health and longevity.
I highly recommend reading The Third Expert Report, which also has downloadable chapters if you prefer to assemble your own hard copy version rather than reading it on the computer. Don’t wait until your body sends you “smoke signals” that you’re in danger of cancer blazing through your organs. If you ever wanted a user-friendly roadmap to help you navigate to anti-cancer self-preservation, it’s here and it’s free.
Remember: Only you can be your own poster child for preventing cancer.
NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and
does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if
you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or
questions of a personal medical nature.
[i] Klara, Robert. “Throwback Thursday: When Doctors Prescribed ‘Healthy’ Cigarette Brands.” Adweek. June 18, 2015.