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Garth Rattray | Inaccuracies about cancer prevention

Published:Monday | November 11, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Interestingly, it was recently revealed that male athletes may have a slightly higher risk of prostate cancer than the general population of males.

The grief, concern, frustration and anger surrounding the prevalence of cancer has led many individuals to seek out and subscribe to the thinnest thread of hope of prevention or a cure.

Some ridiculously assert that medical science already has the cure for cancer, but the drug companies are keeping it secret in order to sell their expensive, sometimes ineffective, treatment. A minority of conspiracy theorists even believe that scientists are ­giving us ­cancer to make money off their ­treatment protocols.

Currently, there is no silver bullet or magic wand treatment/cure for any ­cancer. Therapies for established ­malignancies include interventional radiology, surgical procedures, chemicals and radiotherapy. There is a massive push to fully develop drugs that direct our immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells. Furthermore, I feel that hot and cold-knife surgeries will become obsolete and replaced by nanobots.

As for cancer prevention; currently, only two cancers can be prevented – colon and cervical cancer. Colon cancer can be prevented by routinely viewing the inner lining of the colon using high-resolution fibre-optic technology. Identified lesions, with the possible potential of becoming malignant, can be excised and subjected to microscopic scrutiny.

The well-known Pap smear is not just a ‘cancer test’; it is a test to ­identify lesions that display the potential to become malignant. If such lesions are found, they are excised and microscopically analysed. Removing them stops any potential threat that they pose.

The other aspects of current cancer prevention involve getting rid of potential cancer-forming tissue(s) as a precaution. In some cases, this is done for breast cancer, where the cancer was found in one breast, but both were removed because of the likelihood of occurrence in the other.

Some remove both breasts in instances of a very strong genetic predisposition to breast cancer. Some remove the breasts and/or the uterus and/or the ovaries to pre-empt high cancer risks in any of those sites. Some have even debated having men remove their prostates in cases of a high risk of prostate cancer within the family, but the PSA and regular screening won out and are considered the best protocol for risk management.

There are the occasional appearances of bold, but inaccurate claims that cancers are preventable with lifestyle changes. The usual quadruple is trotted out – diet, exercise, rest and avoiding toxins like chemicals, smoke and alcohol. It’s an excellent idea to eat natural products. In fact, the closer your food is to nature, the better it is for you. Unprocessed, fertiliser-free and ­insecticide-free foods are very healthy choices.

However, even vegans and ­fruitarians get cancer. The thing to remember is that good lifestyle choices will reduce your risk, but there is no zero-risk scenario.

Exercise is excellent in moderation and when performed consistently. It, too, has been proven to reduce the risk of many things, including cancer. However, again, there is no zero-risk scenario.


Interestingly, it was recently revealed that male athletes may have a slightly higher risk of prostate cancer than the general population of males. I suspect that this may be applicable in high-performance athletes whose activities elevate their testosterone levels.

The point is, when it comes to something as complicated as cancer, genetics, random mutations, chronic irritation, toxins and immune system glitches all play a part, so there is no simple solution. I believe that one day scientists will discover a way to cure and eventually prevent cancer. Until then, a healthy lifestyle is excellent to reduce your risk but cannot prevent cancer. Vigilant screening is essential for early detection.

I worry that people will be misinformed and therefore endangered by individuals whose personal agendas precipitate inaccurate, misleading statements without any credible scientific backing. Eat natural foods, exercise and rest, but don’t forget to do regular screening.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feed­back to and