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Cancer, Genetics or Lifestyle?

In Canada it is estimated that about 2 in 5 people will develop cancer in their lifetime, and about 1 in 4 Canadians will die from cancer. It is expected that in 2021 there will be 229,200 new cancer cases, 84,600 deaths due to cancer, and approximately 600 people will be diagnosed with this disease every single day. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada and is responsible for nearly 29% of all deaths. It is also the leading cause of death worldwide, in 2020 nearly 10 million people died after being diagnosed with cancer.

Many people believe that cancer is genetic, and if it runs in their family, they’re destined to be diagnosed with this disease at some point in their lives, but are they really? Bad genes can only account for up to a mere 10% of all cancers leaving the remaining 90% directly attributable to lifestyle.

Thanks to the work of scientists mapping the human genome there have been great strides made towards understanding cancer biology. More and more scientists are keeping their eye on the human genome, when it comes to finding a cure for cancer, and this emerging science has come to be known as epigenetics. In layman’s terms epigenetics refers to the process that drives gene expression (the behavior of genes), but it does not alter the actual DNA sequence within that gene.

Epigenetics is a very normal, much needed, physiological process that controls the very minute changes in our cells. These changes allow for nearly identical cells to behave quite differently, for example one cell can act as a liver cell while another can act like a skin cell, every difference in a cell is due to the process of epigenetics. Epigenetics drives all cell behavior whether that is good, bad, or otherwise.

What are the epigenetic factors that cause a cell to behave in such a way that it becomes a cancer cell? Scientists believe that there are two different factors that cause a cell to misbehave, internal and external, they believe that the external ones play a bigger role than the internal factors. So, what then are the external factors they are referring to? The answer is our lifestyle, nutrition, toxin exposure, physical activity, and stress.

Making poor choices in these four categories can lead a healthy cell to become a cancerous one.

So, if we know that what can we do to reduce our odds of ever being told we have cancer? We, as a society, need to start taking responsibility for our health by learning to live a healthy lifestyle.

Epigenetic factors account for nearly 90% of all cancers. Therefore, making healthier choices regarding nutrition, toxins, physical activity, and stress, grants us control over this process and the effect it has on our cells. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, limiting processed foods, and increasing water intake will lower the risk of cancer. Reducing our toxic load by eliminating as many toxins as possible and reducing the impact of the ones that can’t be eliminated will significantly reduce the toxic burden on our already stressed cells. Incorporating at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily and using one or more of the many tools available to manage our stress will positively impact how our genes function.

Yes, our genes have the ability to switch healthy cells into cancerous cells, but 90% of the time it is our lifestyle that triggers that switch. By simply making healthier lifestyle choices, approximately 206,000 new cancer cases and 76,000 deaths can be avoided. Simply stated genetics load the cancer gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.

Until next time,


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