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The Health Index

Cancer is the collective term for various diseases with common characteristics. In cancer, originally normal cells multiply uncontrolled and become cancer cells. Cancer cells invade the surrounding tissue, destroying and displacing it in the process.

Test Tubes

Sometimes, cancer cells break away from their point of origin and form tumours (metastases) elsewhere in the body.

What are the causes?

Cancer is caused by changes in the genetic material of cells. There are several known factors that promote such changes and play a role in the development of cancer:

  • The natural ageing process

  • Lifestyle (poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol etc)

  • External influences (e.g. viruses, exposure to harmful chemicals, tobacco smoke, UV etc)

  • Hereditary or genetic factors


Some of these risk factors can be influenced, while others cannot. It is estimated that about one third of cancers could be prevented by avoiding risk factors such as smoking or excess alcohol intake. Other contributing factors – for example the exposure to environmental pollution - cannot be influenced or are unknown.


It is estimated that five to ten percent of all cancer patients have a demonstrable congenital change in their genetic make-up that increases the risk of cancer. Furthermore, almost 90 percent of cancers occur in people over 50 years of age. It was long thought that a genetic predisposition was one of the factors that cannot be influenced, but we now know that that is not true. Genes can be switched on or off.


So, simply having a gene does not mean that it will be switched on or expressed. If it is not expressed, it will not work and not trigger cancer. Diet and lifestyle choices play a vital role in gene expression

Image by National Cancer Institute

What are the symptoms?

A typical feature of cancers is that they usually cause no or only minor symptoms in the early stages. However, different warning signs can be an indication of a tumour, although it may not be cancerous. If symptoms persist for some time, it is absolutely vital to see your doctor. The following are possible symptoms of cancer:

  • Persistent cough, accompanied by bloody sputum and hoarseness

  • Skin Lesions

  • Blood in stool

  • Persistent digestion, stomach or intestinal or swallowing problems

  • Lumps that can be felt under the skin, the female breast or male testicles

  • Unexplained pain

  • Paleness and anaemia

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Poor performance

  • Persistent pain when urinating

  • Wounds or ulcers that won't heal

  • Persistent loss of appetite

  • Weight loss that can't be explained

Image by Sarah Cervantes

How can a nutrition practitioner help?

Your nutrition practitioner offers support to complement your medical treatment. As diet and lifestyle choices are now known to affect gene expression, it is crucial to give your body all the help you can.

Find your Cancer


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