Cancer is still the second leading cause of death following the heart diseases in developing and developed countries. According to the statistics of Globocan (Global Cancer Observatory) which collects cancer data all around the world, 19.3 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2020, while 10 million patients passed away due to cancer. It is predicted that these numbers will increase by 50 percent in 2040. According to the data issued by World Health Organization, cancers could be diagnosed at late stages in 40% of all countries due to late presentation to healthcare facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Probable reasons include difficulty to access treatment, ignorance of examinations and/or early discontinuation of treatment due to the worry of being infected. Stating that cancer research, which are very critical sources to make achievements in treatment modalities, has also slowed down during the pandemic, Professor of Medical Oncology Yeşim Eralp, M.D., from Acıbadem Maslak Hospital, says “We expect to face a major increase in incidence of cancer in the near future due to such delays”.
Emphasizing that bad habits have also played an important role in globally elevated prevalence of cancer, Professor of Medical Oncology Yeşim Eralp adds “The most important factors that have triggered cancer during the pandemic are sedentary lifestyle, use of tobacco, alcohol consumption and unhealthy eating habits. Use of tobacco not only account for 85% of lung cancers, but it also leads to many life-threatening cancers, such as head & neck, pancreas and bladder cancers. It is estimated that bad eating habits, heavy alcohol consumption and lack of exercise increase the risk of cancer by 30-50 percent.” So, which habits are leaving us wide open to cancer? Professor of Medical Oncology Yeşim Eralp explains 10 bad habits that cause cancer and makes significant advices and warnings.
Tobacco triggers onset of cancer by impairing the protective immunity shield and by influencing not only the cells that reside along the route of the smoke, but also the entire body due to hundreds of harmful substances that it contain in addition to the nicotine. Tobacco and tobacco products, which play a role in development of 14 cancer types including life-threatening one, such as head-neck, lung, bladder and pancreas cancers, account for 25%-30% of cancer-related deaths and 87% of lung cancer-related deaths. Compared to non-smokers, the risk of lung cancer is 23 folds high in smoker men and 17 folds high in smoker women.
Excessive consumption of saturated fat acid and red meat, which is specified as “Western-style diet”, in association with sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent. Resulting from this type of diet and lifestyle, obesity increases the risk of uterine, breast, pancreas and stomach cancers by 30 percent.
Heavy alcohol consumption plays an important role in the development of various cancer types including esophageal, breast and liver cancers. For instance, previous studies indicate that consumption of alcohol at amount of 14 g and more per day (360 ml beer, 150 ml wine, 45 ml whiskey-raki etc.) increases the risk of breast cancer by 23 percent, colon cancer by 17 percent and esophageal cancer by 220 percent.
Stating that charred foods contain pyrolysate and various amino acids harmful for the body, Professor of Medical Oncology Yeşim Eralp says “ These compounds particularly increase the risk of gastric and intestinal cancers.”
Prolonged sunbathing without sunscreen paves the way for melanoma and other skin cancers by leading to uncontrolled division of the cells located in lower layers of the skin (dermis) and suppression of the immunity, as harmful ultraviolet rays break down the DNA. Furthermore, severe sunburn 6 times or more before the age of 25 increases the risk of melanoma by 2.7 folds and other skin cancers by 1.7-2 folds. Professor of Medical Oncology Yeşim Eralp states that tanning in solarium devices may increase the risk of skin cancer by 6 folds and she adds: “It is necessary to avoid solarium, stay home between 10:00 AM and 16:00 PM, when the sun’s rays are most damaging, and use sunscreens with 30 or more sun protection factors when exposing to sunlight.”
“The canned foods that contain nitrite and nitrate for longer shelf life and the foods that contain azo dyes are directly carcinogenic.” says Professor Yeşim Eralp and describes other products that increase the risk of cancer: “Moreover, plastic coated products that contain bisphenol provide a basis for breast and prostate cancers when this substance contaminates foods. The products that contain saturated fat acid, refined sugar and flour leads to cancer by triggering oxidation and inflammation. High-sugar desserts may trigger cancer by stimulating cellular division and growth pathways through excessive secretion of insulin.”
Studies relate certain hematologic cancers to the excess intake of aspartame due to heavy consumption of sweetened drinks.
“Studies demonstrate that too much stress alone does not trigger cancer. However, it is demonstrated that associating bad habits, such as use of tobacco and heavy alcohol consumption, are directly related with cancer.” says Prof. Yeşim Eralp and adds “Sleeping well, active lifestyle and sparing time for exercise at regular intervals (three times a week) are very crucial to avoid stress.”
Certain bad habits that influence the sleep pattern negatively, such as sleeping in front of TV and not sleeping until late night, also increase the risk of cancer. Melatonin is a hormone that is responsible for regulating the sleep cycle and biological clock of the body, namely “circadian rhythm”. Due to bad sleep habits, epiphysis – a small organ located in the mid part of the brain- does not secrete melatonin properly, resulting in a trigger for development of cancer.
The relation of mobile phones and microwave ovens, which are the source of electromagnetic radiation, with cancer has been a matter of population-scale fear for a long time. This issue has been addressed, since previous animal trials showed that such non-ionizing radiations may cause a hematologic cancer, called “myeloma”, or soft tissue tumors. It has been suggested that radiofrequency radiation may trigger cancer by accelerating glucose metabolism in neighboring tissue or causing vascular dilatation and heat change. Stating that epidemiological studies could not prove these suggestions are directly related with population-based cancer, Prof. Yeşim Eralp says “Nevertheless, it is recommended to avoid sleeping with mobile phone at bedside, use earphone while talking on a mobile phone and avoid prolonged contact with mobile phone for cancer prevention.”