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La Prensa: Our Health is in our Control

by Maria Palafox, MD

Recently an article was published in Nature, a scientific journal, studying what influences our overall risk of cancer. It was summarized in the Los Angeles Times; I would like to share the article with you. Is our cancer-free health a matter of luck, or can we do something to influence our chances of getting certain cancers?

A cancer geneticist and an epidemiologist from Johns Hopkins University started with the theory that there is room for error every time a cell reproduces. The cells of some tissues in the body replicate more often and therefore have more chances to be reproduced incorrectly; this chance event, or essentially bad luck, leads to cancer.

This is important to know, because if cancer and other bad health is completely out of our control, then what’s the point in trying to prevent bad health, say with a healthy diet and exercise?

So a team from Stony Brook University in New York used four separate approaches to demonstrate how the “bad luck” theory doesn’t hold up. The New York team stated that yes, every time a tissue cell replicates, there is a chance for a cancer-causing change, but it is actually an environmental risk factor that produces the change most of the time.

For example, the New York team found that outside environmental risk factors drive almost all the risk for certain types of cancers, like sun exposure and skin cancer, or smoking and lung cancer. If this team is correct, then 70-90 percent of cancers can potentially be avoided with healthy habits, like avoiding eating a lot of red meat.

Both theories have their limitations, of course, because every cancer cannot be completely explained by one or the other theory. For example, while it is true that quitting can significantly reduce your risk of lung cancer, there are some pobre cristianos who are nonsmokers who get it anyway. And what about genetics? If high blood pressure and diabetes both run in your family, there is a decent chance you will get it, too.

I can see many of you readers throwing your hands up in the air and saying, “Pos, due!” What I tell my patients is this: don’t poke the skunk! If high blood pressure and heart disease run in your family, you don’t have to be 50 pounds overweight and smoke a pack a day and beg heart disease to take you. Limit your risk factors. It is true, we all have to die of something, but you don’t have to tempt fate.

Eat right, have a meatless Monday, do a couple (or four) laps around the block and quit smoking (too expensive) and you may be surprised how much good health this brings. The

happiest of holidays to you!
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