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The Cancer Connection

The Cancer Connection

The preserved food you love to snack on can potentially put you at risk of cancer of the respiratory tract. You can protect yourself with a diet full of fresh goodness.

Yashna Harjani

Cancer is really a group of diseases that arise from the unchecked growth of body cells. Cancer takes many forms and can occur at various places in the body. Nasopharyngeal cancer, otherwise called NPC, refers to cancer in the nose, pharynx and larynx - all parts the respiratory systems. It is also the sixth most common cancer in Singapore, striking some 300 patients annually.

Southern Chinese all over the world seem more susceptible to NPC than any other race. In Singapore, NPC is the most frequent cancer among Cantonese especially Chinese males aged 15 to 34 years.

Characteristics of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
NPC seems to run in families. One early warning of NPC is the presence of high levels of antibodies to the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). This is a herpes virus thought to be the cause of various types of cancers. Besides this, many traditional food habits and smoking have also been identified as likely causes of NPC.

According to Dr Goh Boon Cher, a consultant at the Cancer Therapeutics and Research Group at the National University Hospital (NUH), said in a Channel NewsAsia report this week: The Chinese population has the highest risk of getting the cancer. Those most at risk are aged between 40 and 50 years.

Symptoms are very innocuous. Dr Khoo Tan Hoon, a consultant at the Therapeutic Radiology Department of the National Cancer Centre, said that an external sign of the cancer can be seen when it gets in the neck, and also there could be a swelling.

Other early signs include blood in the sputum and hearing problems that do not seem to go away. But it is not easy to detect NPC. A study at the Singapore General Hospital found that nearly a fifth of patients with NPC had delayed diagnosis. And many of the factors responsible for the delays appear to be preventable by better patient education and counselling.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
Research on the relationship between diet and NPC has been ongoing. Dietary deterrents and protective benefits of some foods have been highlighted. Not only diet in adulthood, but weaning practices, diets in childhood and adolescence too impact development of NPC. Based on evidence that has been accumulated, listed below are some dietary dos and don'ts that can help protect you against NPC.

The Dos
1. Pack in The Fruits - When you reduce your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, you will face an increased risk of NPC. There is also increased risk when you cut back on foods rich in vitamin C. A switch from a high-protein diet to one rich in vegetables and fruits would result in a drop in EBV antibodies. NPC patients are often found to have high level of EBV antibodies.

The normal recommendation for fruits is two servings, two small fruits or two hawker-sized portions of fruits and for vegetables it is about 2 half bowls (rice bowls) of cooked vegetables daily.

For cancer protection, aim to consume at least three servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables are not only rich sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre, but they also contain an array of natural plant compounds that are protective against cancer.

Also, eating more fruit and vegetables means that you will be more likely to eat proportionately less fatty and high-calorie foods, which has been linked with development of certain other cancers. For more vitamin C, take some guava, orange and orange juice, bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, kiwi, grapefruit, cantaloupe, broccoli, longan and honeydew.

2. Go Green - Aim to consume green leafy vegetables daily. Half a bowl (rice bowl) of green leafy vegetables is great way to get vitamins, especially folate and vitamin C, minerals, fibre and naturally protective plant components, in your diet.


3. Think Wholegrains and Nuts - Foods rich in vitamin E have a protective action against cancer. Vitamin E-rich foods include wholegrains, such as brown rice; wholemeal or high-fibre white bread; wholemeal pasta; high-fibre cereals and wholemeal crackers. Also a handful of nuts each day are a great way to get your daily dose of vitamin E. Go for plain nuts and avoid the highly salted and fried varieties.

The Don'ts
1. Say no to all salted, fermented, preserved and cured foods - Eating salted, fermented and pickled foods are strong risk factors for NPC. Increased risk of NPC has been reported with the consumption of Cantonese-style salted fish, especially in childhood.

picklesAvoid salted, cured, fermented and preserved foods such as chung choi (salted root); salted duck eggs; salted mustard green; dried fish; fermented soy bean paste; fermented fish sauce; mouldy bean curd; salted shrimp paste; chan pai mui and gar ink gee (preserved plums); salted shrimp paste; fermented bean products and smoked meat soy beans, canned salted or pickled vegetables, kiam chye and mei chye (both are salted vegetables) and belacan (shrimp paste). Get a huge dose of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat, fish or poultry regularly. Season with fresh herbs and spices instead of salted and preserved seasonings.

Eat Well, Stay Well
NPC is a familial disease, so it would be a good idea to eat healthy as a family. More fruits and vegetables especially greens, more wholegrains and less processed, preserved and salted foods is the way to go.

Date reviewed: 23 June 2000

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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