When we talk about “cancer”, many folk
will either go into denial, or start drinking de-oxygenated prune juice or
some similar ‘natural’ product which will melt the cancer away, like magic.
And, Oh Yes, it is expensive de-oxygenated prune juice!
However, “cancer” can be a killer, but not always. There
are many people who have had cancer and lived to tell the tale. My dear old
Mum had cancer of the womb and ended up having a hysterectomy before she was
50 years of age. She was 94 when she died of pneumonia, so I think we can
safely say the operation was a success!
The treatment for cancer is classically surgery,
chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Much depends upon the type of cancer, and how
long it has been growing, and how far it has spread. This can be a single
modality, or combined. There is also much work being done with the immune
system and cancers, with a vaccine for some types of cancer on the horizon.
However, some of these cancer fears and phobias are not
necessarily based on true facts. Try this one - an Australian Institute of
Health and Welfare shows the number of new cancer cases grew from 66,000 in
1991 to 114,000 in 2009 and about 121,000 Australians are expected to be
diagnosed with cancer this year.
There you are! Cancer rates almost double! Why? Is it
Aussie pies? Or heaven help me - I hope it’s not the beer!
Now back to some real science/mathematics/statistics: the
increase in the number of cancer diagnoses is partly explained by the
increasing size of the ageing population. Other factors had contributed to
the apparent increase as well. Wider availability of testing and screening
had played a role. In other words, we were getting more clever with our
‘looking’, so obviously found more. This, of course, does not mean that the
death rates from cancer are significantly greater. Of the prostate cancer
diagnoses for example, the vast majority of males will die with the
condition, and not from the condition!
Now I often get asked whether I take multivitamins or
magic herbs or other additional dietary fad compounds. I don’t! I want you
to think critically for a moment, it is very difficult to ‘prove’ that by
taking de-oxygenated prune juice or similar items, that ‘something’ (usually
cancer) does not happen. Even more outrageous are the claims that some herb,
poppy or whatnot can actually ‘cure’ cancers. Is it all just poppycock? Dr.
Clifton of the Australian CSIRO would say so. Results of a 15+ year study in
Australia were presented at the CSIRO Prospects for Cancer Prevention
Symposium. The findings emerged from the Cancer Council’s Melbourne
Collaborative Cohort Study, an ongoing research project involving 42,000
Australians who have been monitored since 1990.
Looking at the dietary habits and the cancer connection,
Dr Peter Clifton, director of the CSIRO’s Nutrition Clinic, said there was
“zero evidence” that eating fruit and vegetables could protect against
cancer. The nutritionists and the healthy eating proponents were shattered.
However, this to me is a much more compelling argument than something that
comes from folklore, or the lady next door who swears by it. (BTW, sales of
de-oxygenated prune juice have taken a nose-dive recently.)
To be able to prove or disprove, medical science looks at
a large group, or population, and compare the cancer experience with another
similar large group or population. Ideally, the two groups are matched for
age/sex/ethnicity/working environment, location, etc. You get no worthwhile
results comparing Welsh coalminers with urban Africans, for example, to go
to extremes. That is real apples and oranges.
Dr Clifton looked at the results from a study of 42,000
adults. What the survey did show was that the three prime risk factors as
far as predicting cancers were concerned were identified as obesity, excess
alcohol and smoking.
Staying within a healthy body weight range was found to
be more important than following particular nutritional guidelines. This
means a non-smoking thin person who does not eat enough fruit and vegetables
would have a lower risk of developing cancer than an overweight non-smoker
who eats the recommended daily amount of fruit and five colors of