Cancer, Bad Luck, Sitting and Diabetes

This article was published in the Bracebridge Examiner in January 2016.

As a health-care practitioner, 2015 was an emotional roller coaster of conflicting research and health information. While there are often debates within every profession, these stories greatly affected what we communicated to our patients. And as in many areas of life, the coveted black-and-white just-tell-me-what-to-do was nowhere to be found. The world of health and health-care is certainly rather gray. I hope that this helps more than it confuses.

January 2015 – A research study released in the Journal of Science claimed that a lot of cancers were simply due to bad luck. In an analogy of taking a road trip, the longer the distance traveled, the greater the chance of an accident. The longer we live, the greater the chance for cancer. In the same analogy, other factors such as car maintenance and road conditions would be parallel to maintaining our health via eating well & exercising and environmental pollutants. However, the study did claim that much of cancer is beyond our influence.

While this angered many in the health-care field, fearing that the messages of health promotion and disease-prevention would be ignored, influencing people’s behaviours & choices, cancer research and government/public policy, many people were actually happy about this study. It seems (which may show my ignorance) that many people feel stigmatized when given a cancer diagnosis. They blame themselves, feel horrible about it, and worse, are criticized by others for being selfish, not being careful, or just being weak. Most of us know of at least one tragic story of a parent with young children who has succumbed to cancer, or worse, a young child. These families do not need the added stress of shame.

As the year continued, another study was published in The Journal of Nature specifically to repudiate this first study. It concluded that bad luck is only 10-30 % responsible and that our habits, choices and the environment still have a significant affect. Honestly, I think that most people will use common sense. It makes sense that smoking, eating junk food and other poor lifestyle choices would lead to a greater chance of developing some sort of disease / illness. What this debate has positively done is to highlight that cancer patients and their families are people, not just statistics or cases. Overall this represents a move in health-care towards greater biopsychosocial approaches, wherein the patient is seen as a person and is tended to their bodies, their emotions & mindset and their social/cultural situation. This is very positive.

Lastly, I will end with some “bad” news. In general, we sit too much and don’t move enough. It seems that the quick gym routine / walk is not enough. If the majority of our days are spent sitting, this outweighs the 20-minute workout or the 30-minute lunchtime walk. Sorry (truly) about that, but the research shows a strong correlation between how much we sit and the development of conditions such as heart disease, cancer and especially diabetes. You can blame God, our genes or evolution, however the fact remains that our bodies are designed to move and need to move frequently in order to maintain vitality. Think about how active human beings have been for our history and think about how long we have had the luxury of cars, TV and computers. Ask any adult and they’ll tell you how less active young people are today. But please, don’t despair or give up! That 20-minute workout and that lunch time walk are very important – you simply need to add more activity to the rest of your life. Take the stairs, park farther in the parking lot, shovel instead of snow blow, rake instead of leaf blow, stand more at home, ask for a stand-up work station, do an extra walk, add another gym workout – do whatever it takes to get most of your day on your feet and moving. And yes, your life does depend on it!

Dr. Nick is a chiropractor in Bracebridge. His primary motive is to help people and to offer hope, motivation and inspiration. Unfortunately, sometimes the message hurts a bit!