Cancer rates are rising rapidly in younger people, says Dr Leigh Erin Connealy. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself at any age
Cancer rates in people under the age of 50 are skyrocketing. Since the 1990s, a ground-breaking study reports, diagnoses of several cancer types, including breast, liver, colorectal, esophageal, bile duct, thyroid, bone marrow, pancreatic and neck, have been on the rise in younger people around the world.1
Several factors, such as diet, lifestyle, obesity and the microbiome—all of which have shifted drastically over the last few decades—could be to blame, say the researchers. Let’s take a closer look at some of these potential causes and what we can do about them.
Worldwide, obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975, particularly in developed countries. Per the World Health Organization, as of 2016 (the most recent statistics available), 1.9 billion adults were overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more. And 650 million of those individuals were considered obese with a BMI of 30 or greater.2
Sedentary lifestyles coupled with a Westernized diet rich in sugars, carbohydrates and processed foods are wreaking havoc on waistlines and overall health. Being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis and certain cancers, including breast, colon, kidney, endometrial, ovarian, gall bladder, prostate and liver.
At my clinic, the Cancer Center for Healing, we recommend that most patients follow a modified ketogenic diet similar to what our ancestors ate. A low-carb, moderate protein, higher-in-fat program can help fight cancer and various other chronic diseases. This dietary approach works because cancer cells require glucose (aka sugar) to survive. And cutting off their “fuel source” is an integral part of the battle.
First, eliminate or severely restrict sugar, added sugars and processed foods from your diet. Focus instead on lean, non-GMO and organic protein sources (fish, chicken, turkey, beef and eggs), plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats (avocados, nuts, seeds).
Eat the rainbow—meaning incorporate different-colored foods—to get as many nutrients and phytonutrients as possible. And remember, if Mother Nature made it, and it’s fresh, natural and unprocessed, it’s likely a healthy choice.
One of the most alarming trends is how much more people tend to sit. In a recent study, researchers conducted treadmill stress testing on 122,000 people between 1991 and 2014.
Lead researcher and Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr Wael Jaber came to a startling conclusion: “Being unfit on a treadmill or in an exercise stress test has a worse prognosis, as far as death, than being hypertensive, being diabetic, or being a current smoker.” In short, sitting for prolonged periods and being inactive may be more likely to kill you than smoking! Good cardiorespiratory fitness is tied to lower mortality rates, and the more in shape you are, the better.3
Lack of physical activity also contributes to worldwide obesity and cancer risk. Being too sedentary, which includes watching TV and sitting for hours at home or work, increases the risk of endometrial, colon and lung cancer.4
It sounds obvious, but if you’ve been inactive for a long time, getting more exercise can be a difficult task. The key is to slowly incorporate movement into your day-to-day activities. These are some ideas from the Harvard Health blog:5
As your stamina increases, incorporate 30 minutes of moderate activity into your daily routine. Doing so will benefit all aspects of your health and well-being.
Imbalances in the body’s microbiome—the helpful and potentially harmful microbes (viruses, fungi, bacteria) that live in and on our bodies—have been linked to a wide range of health concerns, from obvious ones such as gastrointestinal issues to lesser-known ones like allergies, autoimmune diseases, weight gain, cognitive disorders, diabetes and a depressed immune system.
A disrupted microbiome has also been associated with cancer. Imbalances, including those in the gut, disrupt homeostasis or balance in the body, leading to inflammation and free-radical damage to cells. This cell damage affects the RNA, a type of molecule that the body uses to make proteins, and DNA inside cells. It reduces the efficiency of the cell’s energy factories, the mitochondria.
When the mitochondria are damaged and no longer functioning properly, cells require another form of “fuel”: sugar. This cycle of burning sugar for energy, called glycolysis, is damaging to all the body’s systems. It harms healthy cells and feeds malignant cells.
Here are some simple ways to bolster the good bacteria in your gut and starve the bad guys:6
I firmly believe that chronic stress is one of the most toxic contributors to cancer, especially in younger people. Relationship stress, job stress, the hardships of the last several years during and in the aftermath of the pandemic—it’s a lot to deal with.
My last column (October 2023) detailed several strategies and therapies for reducing stress and anxiety, from meditation and massage to diet and supplements. Use whatever self-care and calmness-promoting activities and treatments you have in your arsenal to reduce the stressors in your life. Doing so will benefit all aspects of your well-being.
Technology has made our lives easier in several ways. But all the pollution from electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) we are bombarded with constantly—from power lines, Wi-Fi, appliances, computers, smartphones and smart meters—is detrimental to our health. Late researcher and surgeon Dr Robert O. Becker, known as the “father of electromedicine,” and many experts in the field consider electromagnetic pollution the greatest danger to humanity today.
Here are simple ways to minimize your exposure to EMFs:
We live in a dirty world surrounded by chemicals and toxins, both manufactured and naturally occurring. Some of the most common and problematic are heavy metals, pesticides and plastics chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), all of which have been linked to cancer.
The heavy metals mercury, lead, aluminum and cadmium are all known carcinogens, while many pesticides are “known or probable” carcinogens.7 Phthalates and BPA are xenoestrogens, which means they mimic estrogen-like effects in the body. Because they have the potential to disrupt hormonal balances, xenoestrogens have been associated with cancer.
Heavy metals: Look for household and personal care items free from these metals. If you have mercury dental amalgam fillings, have them removed by a holistic dentist. If blood levels of heavy metals are high, consider chelation therapy under the guidance of a skilled integrative physician, or see WDDTY January 2020 for how to detox from heavy metals naturally.
Pesticides: Grow your own pesticide-free produce or buy organic whenever possible. Every year, the Environmental Working Group and Pesticide Action Network publish lists of the conventionally grown fruit and vegetables most contaminated with pesticides in the US and UK (see “The 2023 Dirty Dozen” below). Choose organic alternatives for these foods if you can.
Plastics chemicals: Go plastic-free when possible, especially when it comes to food storage, and go for natural cosmetics and personal care products. To remove plastics chemicals and other pollutants from the body, consider infrared sauna therapy (see “Detox with sauna therapy” below).
The right tests also play an important role in protecting you from cancer. It baffles me when patients come to me in their 40s and 50s and say that their conventional doctors have not done blood tests or screenings to look for cancer and other chronic diseases. One of the key tenets at my clinic is “You can’t fix what you don’t find.”
Cancer is a byproduct of a lot of malfunctions in the body, and lab results can often clue us into problems before they become catastrophic. Aside from prevention, early detection is the best way to nip cancer and many other health concerns in the bud.
For instance, elevated cortisol levels indicate excess stress, high C-reactive protein (CRP) levels are associated with inflammation and white blood cells are more abundant when infections are present. These problematic markers will go unnoticed if you do not undergo lab tests and early screenings.
For patients with cancer, at the clinic we delve deeper using testing from the Research Genetic Cancer Center. RGCC blood tests detect the presence and abundance of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and cancer stem cells (CSCs). CTCs are troublesome because they break off from the original tumor, move throughout the circulatory system, and seek new places to “live.” CSCs, located within a tumor, can self-renew and grow again even after conventional treatments, such as chemotherapy, have been administered.
Conventional cancer treatments are not always 100 percent effective because these modalities alone can’t eliminate CTCs and CSCs. These cells are responsible for 95 percent of all cancer metastases and deaths, so they must be eradicated along with the tumor.
RGCC blood tests are the most accurate diagnostic tool for detecting CTCs. This testing also reveals which common chemotherapeutics, natural agents and other drugs would work most effectively on each patient’s cancer type.
If you do get cancer, an individualized approach is essential. At the Cancer Center for Healing, we don’t use the same cookie-cutter approach with every patient. We personalize each treatment plan based on several factors, including individualized blood tests. Creating tailor-made protocols based on an individual’s specific lab values allows us to give each patient the best chance at overcoming their disease.
In the conventional cancer approach, the only aim is to kill cancer cells. But in the integrative cancer world, the goal is not only to find and kill malignant cells but to reestablish healthy cells, bolster the immune system and engender total body wellness.
To find a practitioner in your area, visit acam.org or ifm.org. For more information on becoming a patient at the Cancer Center for Healing or the Center for New Medicine, visit cancercenterforhealing.com and cfnmedicine.com.
These are the fruit and vegetables that are most contaminated with pesticides in the US, according to the most recent data collected by the Environmental Working Group:
To see the UK list from the Pesticide Action Network, visit pan-uk.org/dirty-dozen and sign up for a free download.
One effective way to remove potentially harmful pollutants from the body, including plastics chemicals, pesticides and heavy metals, is by regularly undergoing infrared sauna therapy. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and “sweating it out” is an excellent detoxification tool.
Infrared sauna therapy also increases circulation, oxygenates tissues and enhances nutrient delivery to the cells. Plus it’s an effective stress reliever.
I have used infrared sauna almost daily for several years and suggest most people do the same. Just make sure to consult with your doctor before undergoing any new therapies to ensure there are no contraindications.