Understanding cancer and nutrition
Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. Of the many different types of cancer, most form tumours in a specific part of the body, most commonly the skin, breast, lung, large intestine, or prostate gland.
The disease may then spread within the body through the blood and lymphatic system (a system of glands that filters out infectious organisms from the body).
Because public knowledge and understanding of the disease has developed and increased over the last few decades, we have been able to implement lifestyle changes, effective screening programmes, and new types of therapies in order to improve the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Different types of cancer
There are many different types of cancers, and the disease can affect organs (such as the colon, breast, or prostate) as well as tissues (such as the blood or bones). The most common types of cancer in the UK are skin, lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal. About one in three people in the UK will develop cancer at some point in their life.
Cancer risk is influenced by both external factors (tobacco smoke, chemicals, radiation, and infectious organisms) and internal factors (genes, mutations, hormones, and immune conditions). Exposure to the most common carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), such as tobacco smoke, ultraviolet light, and other types of radiation, should be avoided when possible.
Your physical state, what you eat, your age, whether you are obese or not, and hereditary factors all influence whether you are more or less likely to get cancer.
The treatment for cancer usually depends on the stage the disease has reached. Surgically removing tumours can be successful if the cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes or other sites in the body. For certain types of cancers, treatment with chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used instead of, or in combination with, surgery. New therapies include inactivating damaged genes and boosting the immune system's ability to destroy cancerous cells. However, the most effective way to lower the number of deaths is to prevent cancer from developing by screening to detect it early, eating healthily, and exercising regularly.
Nutrition and cancerWe deal primarily with three types of cancer in this section - breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer - because nutritional and lifestyle changes can be effective in their prevention and treatment. If you are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy, nutrition can play an essential role in helping you feel better, giving you energy and increasing your sense of well-being (see Weight gain). Because some drugs used in chemotherapy can deplete vitamin and mineral levels in the body, your doctor may recommend a supplement. During treatment, however, you should not exceed the recommended daily amounts (RDAs) for vitamins and minerals. This is because high doses of certain micronutrients could interfere with the processing of some chemotherapy drugs.
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