With cancer predicted to affect one in three of us in the UK, knowing what symptoms to look out for and taking preventative measures are important to ensure you keep healthy in the long-term.
Often the media will publish conflicting stories on so-called ‘superfoods’ and on lifestyle choices which may increase or decrease your cancer chances, making choosing healthy changes to your life confusing. To help you increase your cancer awareness, we held a live chat on Thursday 21 February in order to allow you to receive expert advice on your cancer prevention related questions.
Yvonne Allan, from our Dedicated Cancer Nurse Service, was on hand to answer all your questions and concerns. Here is what she had to say:
Fionad asked: At an appointment yesterday, the dentist noticed a rough patch on the side of my cheek and said they'd need to 'keep an eye on it'. I'm now worried this means it could result in cancer, is this a risk?
Yvonne Allan: Hi Fiona. It is good that your dentist has picked up on this, but please try and not worry. A 'rough patch' of skin is probably some inflammation that should just settle down on its own; however it would need to be kept an eye on to ensure no changes develop. This is something that can happen but as long as you are vigilant and highlight if there are any changes then it can be addressed immediately. If you smoke try and cut down and see your GP about stopping and be aware of keeping within the recommended alcohol unit intake.
Fionad asked: Thanks; is alcohol and smoking a big contributor to oral cancer?
Yvonne Allan: Hi Fiona. There is a clear link between oral cancers and smoking and drinking alcohol. There is a higher than average risk if you smoke, and 30% increase association with drinking alcohol.
Jmeqtr asked: There was a recent article in the press about hair dyes being a risk; how much of a risk do these products pose?
Yvonne Allan: Hi jmeqtr. I know this has been in the press recently and I think it's something that people have to consider due to the chemicals that are in hair dyes. However, I think the debate is about whether or not these are absorbed through the scalp and of course there is research for and against. Cancer Research UK states that there is no clear link. Some research shows an increased risk of bladder cancer for male hairdressers as they would be handling the chemicals directly, although now they would use a non-touch application. Please see http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/about-cancer/cancer-questions/does-hair-dye-cause-cancer for more information. I don't think people need to be too concerned if they use hair dye, but as with everything it's about moderation.
Iain M asked: I've been wondering about cancer screening as it is in the news quite a lot. Would it be possible for people to ask their GP for this or is it only carried out for certain types of cancer?
Yvonne Allan: You are quite right about cancer screening, there are established cancer screenings in place for specific cancers as they know these are good indicators such as breast screening, cervical and bowel. It is not possible to request a 'general' cancer screening, especially if you do not have symptoms. One of the reasons for this is because it can give false results and it would mean a lot of people being put through unnecessary tests. The main thing is to see your GP if you have any unusual symptoms that persist.
247521 asked: Can artificial additives have an effect on the developing of cancer?
Yvonne Allan: There is no link established between food additives and cancer developing. All food additives are tested for safety before they are allowed and the advice is that they are safe in moderation. I know there has been concern around aspartame (sweetener) but, although high quantities have been shown to cause cancer in rats, there is no evidence that the same happens in humans. As with everything, it's about ensuring we are aware with what we are eating and drinking, and that it's not to excess. Food labelling is also getting much better which helps.
Binaural_Pete asked: Does a vegetarian or vegan diet have any positive effect on your likelihood of developing cancer?
Yvonne Allan: There is some evidence to show that eating a diet high in red meat can increase the risk of bowel cancer, in particular processed meats such a sausages and bacon. So in that respect a vegan/vegetarian diet does not pose that risk. The main thing to consider if you eat meat is to try and reduce red meat, sausages, etc., to a couple of days a week and if you are vegan/vegetarian to ensure you eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables to ensure to get the essential vitamins and minerals.
David Barr asked: Other than the obvious (eg. lumps, growing moles, etc.) what should we be looking out for as possible signs to get checked out?
Yvonne Allan: Hi David. Lumps and bumps are the obvious ones, but things like losing weight for no apparent reason, any changes in bowel habit that persists and bruising easily/excessively are things that would also warrant investigation.
Jan asked: What cancers are most impacted by lifestyle?
Yvonne Allan: I think oral, lung and liver cancers are the ones that are the obvious ones impacted by lifestyle (although there are many people who develop these who don't smoke or drink). We have control over many lifestyle factors but we have to consider that there are genetic factors as well that generally we don’t have much control over.
Jan asked: Also, how do antioxidants help fight cancer?
Yvonne Allan: There is some belief that antioxidants help 'prevent' cancer. This is because they protect cells from free radicals which cause cell damage. Research is currently inconclusive, although as these foods are very good for you it's a good idea to include them in your diet as they will not do you any harm. It’s a better idea to eat these as natural foods if possible rather than supplements.
AXA PPP: Hi Yvonne, we had a question via Facebook:
When I have my chemo, I am booked in for six treatments every three weeks; for six treatments they take my weight and blood counts but these are never given to me. I am on an NHS treatment; do I have the right to ask the results of my blood counts and have this explained to me?
Yvonne Allan: You certainly do have a right to ask these questions about your blood count and weight so you have a better understanding of why they are done. Your weight is checked so they can ensure they calculate the correct drug dosage for you, and your bloods are checked to make sure you have recovered from the previous chemotherapy treatment and it is safe to proceed with the next dose. Please don’t worry about asking this, I am sure they will be happy to answer any questions for you.
Mary asked: Hi Yvonne. Is there a certain way that you should check your breasts for signs of cancer?
Yvonne Allan: Mary; the main recognisable signs is a lump, an inverted nipple or any discharge from the nipple. Other less common signs are a breast that is swollen, hot to touch or painful and any 'pitting' in the skin. The best way to check is to stand in front of a mirror and gently feel each breast (and under each arm) for any lumps or bumps or if you notice anything visibly unusual. Be aware that breast tissue can be swollen and feel 'bumpy' around the time of your period so it's best to check at a different time for anything unusual, once a month would be reasonable.
Ruth asked: How likely is breast cancer if you have no family history of it? What are the causes?
Yvonne Allan: There is a vast amount of research that’s been done around this, and there are known links such as getting older, the contraceptive pill, HRT, smoking and drinking, and obesity. I'll attach a link for you as Cancer Research has really good information on this and is quite detailed and reliable, http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/type/breast-cancer/about/risks/definite-breast-cancer-risks.
Choddy asked: What foods should be avoided, and what consumed, in the prevention of bowel cancer? Also, is it true smoking reduces the chances of bowel cancer? As does taking aspirin daily?
Yvonne Allan: The information available around cancer prevention in bowel cancer is to eat a diet high in fibre and to ensure you exercise regularly. It is thought that taking aspirin can prevent bowel cancer although they are unsure why, and please make sure you consult your GP if you want more information on this. Processed meats should be limited to twice a week also. Stopping smoking in general would be a good 'all round' cancer prevention although you are more likely to develop polyps in the bowel if you smoke which can then develop into cancer
Any further questions?
If you missed our live chat you can always visit our dedicated Cancer Centre and ask one of our experts your questions. If you are interested in joining our future live chats you can find out how to join here.