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Cancer is the number two killer in the United States after heart disease. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 1.2 million new cases are diagnosed every year. Free radicals– harmful reactive molecules in our body, increase the risk of cancer by damaging the DNA that results in the production of abnormal cells. Poor diet, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and other environmental and health stressors increase the production of free radicals.

The good news is that most cancers are preventable with healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition, including supplements. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of many cancers. Diets low in saturated fats and high in fiber are associated with a lower incidence of colorectal, prostate, breast, and some other cancers.

Most forms of cancer caused by cigarette smoking and the excessive use of alcohol can be prevented. Protecting skin from the sun's harmful rays by using sunscreens and wearing the right clothing can also help prevent many of the one-million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year.

While the opportunity for prevention exists in some cases, other risk factors are frequently unavoidable. Carcinogens present in the environment and in the food we eat are even more difficult to avoid. For this reason, researchers have been zealously looking for compounds or vaccines that can prevent cancer. The strong association of diet and cancer prompted researchers to search for nutrients and phytochemicals, especially antioxidants, that would help prevent cancer. The results to date have been extremely promising.

Vitamin E, the master antioxidant, and selenium lead the pack. However, consuming the right form of vitamin E is critical for reducing the risk of cancer. Unlike some vitamins, which consist only of a single compound, vitamin E consists of eight different compounds, four tocopherols and four tocotrienols (designated as alpha, beta, gamma and delta). Our food contains all eight compounds.

Most vitamin E supplements on the market today, however, contain only alpha-tocopherol, commonly as the synthetic, esterified form. The National Academy of Sciences officially recognized the significant advantage of the natural form of vitamin E over the synthetic. Only products that contain the complete vitamin E family—tocopherols plus tocotrienols— provide the full spectrum of benefits. The typical American diet does not supply the levels necessary to promote wellness and prevent disease, so supplementation is often necessary.

For a Good Cancer Prevention Strategy—The Experts Recommend:
    1. Avoid controllable risk factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption and use appropriate sun protection.

    2. Eat diets rich in fruits and vegetables, high in fiber and low in saturated fat.

    3. Take nutritional supplements, especially if you are at high risk or have a family history of cancer. Choose a basic wide-spectrum antioxidant, which includes selenium, natural carotenoids (alpha, beta and gamma-carotene, lutein, lycopene and astaxanthin), vitamin C and folic acid, and natural vitamin E containing 400 IUs plus 400 milligrams of the other tocopherols and tocotrienols.

    4. Apply topically creams or lotions that contain natural tocopherols plus tocotrienols, especially if exposed to sunshine.
There are, of course, other nutrients and antioxidants with promising cancerpreventing potential. These include folic acid (for colon, breast, and prostate cancer), carotenoids such as lycopene and lutein (for prostate cancer), vitamin C (for stomach cancers, especially those caused by nitrosamines) and vitamin A and antioxidants such as isoflavones (most notably found in soy) and phytosterols (now being examined for their role in cancer prevention).

While proper diet and exercise, avoiding controllable risk factors, and dietary supplements provide possibly the best strategy for cancer prevention; there are no magic bullets available. Taking a balanced approach before problems arise is the best approach. Cutting edge research is helping us to understand the risk factors and providing us with the tools for prevention.