My Dad would have celebrated his 72nd birthday on New Year’s Day this year but unfortunately he didn’t live long enough to see that day. He lived over 6 years after first being diagnosed with cancer.
He made it through 6 months of chemo, with very little side effects, and enjoyed good health after that. He was armed with the information and tools he needed to move through treatment and to regain his health once treatment was complete.
When the cancer returned we brought in many of those same strategies and more to help his body heal. Unfortunately though it wasn’t enough to support his system against the intensive treatment he was subjected to and his body succumbed last May 2019.
After much reflection and of course feeling like there must have been more I could have done to help, I realized something very important.
There was a critical piece missing in our plan to help my Dad heal. After he made it through his first bout with cancer we never dove deeper to uncover WHY he got cancer in the first place. What were his risk factors and what were the lingering imbalances that likely caused the cancer to return?
I don’t want you to repeat this same mistake. I want you to have all the information you need to not only help your body heal now but to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.
In order to do this you need to look deeper into the underlying causes of cancer. What systems play a role. What the internal environment must look like in order for cancer to grow.
The risk for recurrence varies a lot by the type of cancer and the stage it was when first treated. This risk can range anywhere from 5% to 100%. In my Dad’s case, after successfully completing 6 months of treatment and being declared as having NED (No Evidence of Disease), his risk for recurrence was still between 30-40%.
What’s important to remember is that with every cancer there is always some risk for recurrence.
Whether you’re currently facing cancer, a survivor of cancer, a caregiver of someone with cancer, or someone who really doesn’t want to get cancer in the first place, the following information will empower you to take the steps needed to change those statistics.
Let’s start with the cancer prevention recommendations listed by The World Cancer Research Fund:
- Be a healthy weight
- Be physically active
- Eat whole grains, vegetables, fruit, & beans
- Limit “fast foods”
- Limit red & processed meats
- Limit sugar sweetened drinks
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Don’t rely on supplements
- Breastfeed your baby, if you can
And the American Cancer Society’s Guidelines for Cancer Prevention which include:
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- By physically active
- Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods
- If you drink alcohol, limit your intake
- Stay away from tobacco
- Be safe in the sun
I agree with all of these recommendations and I definitely suggest that you start here, but I don’t believe they provide a clear enough picture.
What if you were already doing all of those things and you still got cancer?!
I hear this all the time from my clients. They were doing everything “right”…eating organic, avoiding sugar & fast food, exercising, meditating, wearing sunscreen, not smoking…and yet cancer still grew.
WHY? It doesn’t make sense and rightfully so they’re worried that despite their healthy diet & daily exercise it will come back. Can you relate?!
Cancer is a complicated disease and it will never be just one thing that causes it. This is why the notion of one “cure” for cancer will never come to be. It’s a combination of factors that create an environment in your body which allows cancer to develop and grow.
The good news though is that we have more power than we realize in influencing this environment. It will require us however to dive much deeper than the common prevention recommendations listed above.
The 7 Root Causes of Cancer
Let’s summarize the 7 different factors (“root causes”) that I believe have the biggest influence on cancer growth in your body. They are in no particular order. All 7 are important. Let’s dive in!
1. Nutrient Deficiencies
A poor diet is estimated to contribute to at least 30% of all cancers…this is almost the same impact that smoking has on cancer risk.
Choosing toxic foods is one reason for this contribution and why I recommend that removing toxic foods from your diet is the best place to start. If you haven’t already, you can grab your free guide here to get started on that: The 4 Most Toxic Foods To Avoid During Cancer Recovery.
But there are other reasons too. A nutrient poor diet leads to DNA damage, harmful gene expression, & is deficient in the nutrients that provide cancer protection. You can read more about how a nutrient poor diet can lead to cancer here: 3 Reasons Nutrient Deficiencies Cause Cancer.
2. Toxic Burden
Toxic chemicals are a driving force for cancer. Many have been shown to have carcinogenic properties and yet they are still widely found in our food, water, and environment.
With increased exposure to toxins comes an increased demand on our organs of detoxification; which include the liver, intestines, kidneys, lungs, lymph, and skin.
In my Dad’s case he had cancer in his lymph. He also had years and years of exposure to Round-Up, using it regularly in the yard, plus other chemicals found in body care products, cleaning products, etc. Coincidence? Maybe…but I don’t think so.
Your body does a pretty good job of managing all this but the toxic load can build-up and if you’re not providing your body with the nutrients and lifestyle factors that are going to support detoxification, these pathways will get sluggish and not work as efficiently.
Over time this can result in toxins building up in your body and being stored in your cells, tissues, or organs, eventually leading to the development of cancer. You can read more about the role toxins play in cancer here: Detoxification & Cancer Recovery.
3. Blood Sugar Imbalance
Did you know that people with Diabetes have a 20-30% increased risk of getting cancer?! Yep, that’s another risk factor my Dad had; he was a Type 2 Diabetic, diagnosed around age 50.
High levels of blood sugar have been shown to:
- Increase DNA mutations
- Increase tumor survival
- Increase the proliferation, invasion, & migration of cancer cells
- Increase insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF)…this is important because insulin has been shown to be a powerful growth stimulant; especially in cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon.
It has also been shown that many cancer cells selectively depend on glucose for energy…as much as 50 to 100 times the amount a healthy cell would use!
Furthermore, research has shown that the higher a glycemic load a person’s diet is the more at risk they are for cancer. And if they already have cancer, the more at risk they are for recurrence or even death.
All of this to say, it is completely baffling to me that there is still a debate regarding cancer and sugar, even within my own profession. You can read more about the connection between sugar & cancer here: Sugar Fuels Cancer.
4. Leaky Gut & Microbial Dysbiosis
Proper digestion is critical to health. Even Hippocrates (the father of medicine) taught that “All disease begins in the gut”.
When the gut is compromised, the intestinal lining weakens. Over time the weakened lining starts to allow pathogens or other cancer-causing agents to cross from the gut and into your bloodstream. This is what is known as a “Leaky Gut”.
Leaky Gut has been the subject of more than 11,000 medical and scientific studies addressing a variety of ailments, including cancer.
There are 3 primary concerns when it comes to Leaky Gut & Cancer:
- When there is inflammation & irritation in the gut this won’t just stay there. Eventually these inflammatory markers will travel through the bloodstream to other areas of the body. Cancer cells thrive in an inflammatory environment.
- A leaky gut allows toxins & other pathogens to make their way through the body. They could then be entering cells, causing mutations, and ultimately contributing to the development of cancer.
- The immune system is continually being triggered to react to the array of pathogens and toxins entering the bloodstream; possibly being distracted away from the clump of cancerous cells that are beginning to grow and multiply in another area of your body.
You can read more about the connection between a leaky gut and cancer here: How A Leaky Gut Can Lead To Cancer.
The balance and diversity of microbes in the gut also plays a role in cancer. These microbes are important in blood sugar management & immune balance plus a whole host of other functions.
5. Elevated Hormone Levels
Hormones also play a role in the development of cancer. High hormone levels can stimulate the growth & division of cells, including cancer cells. They can also cause immune suppression, promote inflammation, & increase blood flow to tumors.
Cancer cells can dictate the amount of hormone receptor sites on their surfaces, just as they do with insulin receptors. This makes them even more sensitive to the growth stimulating effects of hormones.
Although there are many different hormones in your body, when it comes to cancer, estrogen definitely gets the most attention. A big part of this comes from the fact that ~70% of all breast cancers are sensitive to estrogen.
Estrogen stimulates growth in all cells, it drives angiogenesis, causes inflammation, & can modulate metabolism. When estrogen binds to an estrogen-receptor on a cell, it tells that cell to divide and grow. Therefore too much estrogen = too much growth!
You can read more about the connection between hormones and cancer here: Hormonal Balance & Cancer Risk.
6. Chronic Inflammation & Weakened Immunity
Your immune system is your primary defense against cancer. There are millions of immune cells circulating through your bloodstream looking for and destroying foreign invaders like bacteria or viruses or damaged and rapidly dividing cells, like cancer cells.
Did you know that you create cancer cells every day? We all do! It’s thanks to our immune system that they don’t continue to grow, reproduce, and take hold.
Cancer cells have an incredible capacity to disguise themselves as “normal” cells, to suppress immune function, or to even recruit immune cells to play on their side. So your immune system needs to be at the top of its game in order to defeat such a formidable opponent. And unfortunately this is not the case for many people.
Modern lifestyle and nutrition habits have depleted & confused our immune systems. Our surveillance systems have weakened and our ability to target and remove cancer cells has significantly decreased.
Over time a weakened immune system becomes more prone to infection, chronic infection leads to further immune depletion, eventually creating an environment that is very hospitable to cancer. The most common of these include varieties of leukemia and lymphoma, which have increased 20% since the 1970’s.
It’s not lost on me that my father had an autoimmune disease (Rheumatoid Arthritis), a chronic infection (Epstein Barr Virus)…which he didn’t know about, and ultimately Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. His immune system hadn’t worked well for years and eventually the cancer was able to take over.
You can read more about the link between the immune system, inflammation, & cancer here: Inflammation: A Key Factor In Cancer Growth.
7. Mental & Emotional Wellness
We often overlook the impact our emotional and mental state play in our overall health. But we are holistic beings, which means that our emotions, our thoughts, our feelings impact our physical body.
Your mental and emotional state directly impacts your cells, your immune system, your digestion, your hormonal system, your nervous system…you get the idea, right?
There are two parts to this important concept:
- The way your feelings, beliefs, and psychological state influence your health.
- How an illness or chronic disease influences your emotional well-being and how this can then impact your ability to heal.
Second only to food, emotions and thought patterns are our primary epigenetic modifiers. This means that what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling can actually change the way your genes are expressed!
According to the Center for Disease Control, higher levels of well-being are linked to:
- A lower risk of disease, illness, and injury
- A speedier recovery from disease, illness, or injury
- A better-functioning immune system
- A longer life
Although there are no scientific grounds that a psychological trauma could be the sole cause of cancer, psychological conditions can dramatically affect your body’s terrain where the seed of cancer can develop. Many cancer patients remember a particularly stressful period, a loss, or a traumatic experience during the months or years leading up to their cancer diagnosis.
You can read more about emotions, stress, and cancer here: Nurturing Emotional Wellness In The Face of Disease.
Free Resource: Assess Your Risks
As you read through that list there might be some that jump out as being true for you. And yet others where you’re not quite sure.
To help you determine which of these 7 areas are your “High-Risk” areas I created a FREE questionnaire that you can access here: Cancer Risk Questionnaire.
This Risk Assessment will guide you through 10 (yes/no) questions for each of the 7 causes listed above. The causes that contain the most yes answers are your “High-Risk” areas.
These are the areas I would suggest you focus on first in your efforts to reduce your recurrence risk.
Design Your Plan
At first glance it may seem like a lot to pull together in order to design a recurrence prevention plan. But the good news is there is a lot of overlap. As you bring in certain foods & strategies to help with one area, you will inevitably improve other areas too.
Here’s a summary of the action items that will enhance each of the 7 factors. For more detailed instructions on any of these areas, please refer back to the articles that I linked to in each section.
- Focus On Nutrient Rich Foods: by adding a colorful variety of plants to your diet & making sure that you’re getting at least 5 servings of fruits & veggies every day…more is better!
- Support Detoxification: by removing as many sources of toxins as possible & boosting your detox pathways with leafy greens, alliums, colorful plants, lots of fluids, exercise, sweating, & intermittent fasting.
- Lower Blood Sugar: by limiting your intake of sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates, replacing with lower glycemic foods, being mindful of your overall carbohydrate intake, balancing meals with fiber, protein, & healthy fat, and moving more.
- Heal Leaky Gut: by first identifying & removing irritants, then adding in anti-inflammatory & microbiome supporting foods, as well as specific herbs or nutrients that can help to heal the lining of the gut.
- Balance Hormones: by reducing your exposure to chemicals which disrupt the hormones, boosting detoxification (see #2), and adding in hormone balancing foods (like healthy fats, phytoestrogens, cruciferous veggies, kale, rosemary, green apples, & more).
- Boost The Immune System: by adding in immune-boosting foods (like garlic, mushrooms, vit C foods, omega-3s, green tea, & more), fasting, adequate sleep, exercise, & stress support.
- Enhance Emotional Well-being: by reconnecting with your life force, building resilience, and healing past wounds.
You CAN take steps to remove the causes of cancer in your life. For some it may require a little tweaking here and there. And for others it may call for a radical life change.
Whatever is true for you please feel empowered to take action. It doesn’t have to be perfect for you to get the benefit.
Every step you take in the right direction, is a step away from cancer.
Start with the free Cancer Risk Questionnaire & identify your high-risk areas. Pick your highest scoring area first then refer back to the action items for that area. Commit to bringing in 1 new helpful strategy each week.
You can do this! You don’t have to wait in fear for the cancer to come back. You can take back control over your cancer destiny.