Cancer is preventable

By Penelope A. Domogo, MD

“The good news is that since these diseases are linked with lifestyle, then these diseases are preventable.”

In the Cordillera and in the world, cancer was not with us in the past, just like high blood pressure and diabetes and arthritis. These are diseases of modern living. By modern living, we mean western-style. Think American. Some people still argue that we didn’t have gadgets then to detect these diseases so we cannot be sure. Well, we didn’t have gadgets then but the memory of our old people are vivid. Cancer is a long-standing painful disease and everybody in the community would know that such and such is sick with such. Our Igorot communities are small and so close-knit that our lives, including our health status, are public. Your neighbor would describe exactly how you look. At one time, we have interviewed groups all over the province and they haven’t related a condition that fit the description of cancer or stroke. At present, we also know many Igorot patients who developed cancer and they don’t have a history of cancer in their families. But for the sake of numbers if you are interested, there are already a lot of studies globally showing that communities which have retained their indigenous ways of simple living have none of these diseases or are rare while communities that have westernized lifestyles have these diseases. Just surf the internet. And this is the good news.
The good news is that since these diseases are linked with lifestyle, then these diseases are preventable. Just adopt a lifestyle that brings about health and wellness. And there’s more good news! We don’t have to crack our brains on what a healthy lifestyle is. As present day Igorots, we don’t have to look far back. This, I believe, is our advantage as indigenous peoples. It’s a blessing. We just look back to the way of life of our parents or our grandparents and we are on the right track. For me, I just have to look back on my childhood and reflect on the habits and values of my parents most of which they have passed on to us, their children. I am 62 years old already so I can recall how life was in my hometown, Besao, 50 years ago and how life was in Bontoc 35 years ago. So much has changed since globalization reached our remote Igorot villages in the mid-1980s. Globalization practically meant marketing western-style living, including the western diet (diet that is meat-egg-milk-sugar heavy) that we, Igorots, were only too willing to adopt. That was when our big troubles began.
So what have we adopted in our lifestyle which are linked with cancer?
Cigarette smoking – that one little stick of cigarette contains more than 4000 chemicals, 43 of which are carcinogenic. “Carcinogenic” means it can cause cancer. Western-style diet compounds the risk of smoking. Meaning if you are smoking and also eat a lot of meat, milk and sugar, then you are in double jeopardy. Lung cancer is the most common cancer of chronic smokers, including second-hand smokers. Smoking could cause other types of cancers.
Milk drinking and intake of other dairy products – We have discussed extensively in previous issues the link between cancer and milk-drinking and intake of other dairy products like chocolate, ice cream, cheese, cream, yoghurt, margarine, butter, etc. Associated with this are breast cancer in both men and women, prostate cancer in men and ovarian cancer and other reproductive tract cancers in women. Cow’s milk contains the hormone insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which is incriminated as major cause of breast, prostate and colon cancers.
Eating Processed meat – A lot of people love these but sorry to inform you that the World Health Organization has classified processed meat as carcinogenic. Yes, CARCINOGENIC. Processed meat are meat that have been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking and other processes to enhance flavor and to preserve it so that even if the cow was slaughtered a year ago, it will reach you in red, yummy condition as corned beef. Aside from corned beef, other processed meat are hotdogs, ham, bacon, longaniza, luncheon meat, sausages, etc, etc.
Eating Too Much Meat – Again, the World Health Organization has classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Meat nowadays is no longer wholesome what with all the chemicals and hormones and antibiotics that are mixed with pig and chicken feed. Researchers show that eating red meat excessively is associated with colorectal cancer. One reason why eating too much meat is a risk factor for colorectal cancer is because meat has no fiber. Yes, NO FIBER. We know how important fiber is in our diet in sweeping and cleaning our stomach and intestines. Without fiber, there is constipation meaning if there are toxins in your food, they will stay longer in your colon and thus have more chances of sticking in your colon. These toxins could be cancer-causing substances or hormones. And without fiber, what will clean your intestines?
Wide use of pesticides – We are spraying our environment with dangerous pesticides, herbicides and other “-cides”. Instead of manually weeding out the grasses, we spray with herbicide and in an instant kills the grasses. Instead of manually removing the worms, we spray poison which will kill the worm. The principle of these killer sprays is that if these can kill a plant, then they can also kill any living thing including people around the area. If they are poison to a plant, what makes you think that they are not poison to you, the sprayer? There are a lot of studies to show that people long exposed to pesticides have a risk of developing any type of cancer. What is tragic is that young children and even still in the womb, are not spared these poisons. Records at the Provincial Health Office show that in Mountain Province we have all types of cancer. Scary.
Eating Too Much Sugar – sugar is the food of cancer cells.
While we introduced the above unhealthy eating and unhealthy agricultural practices in our lives, we removed the following healthy behaviors from our lives:
Eating a variety of indigenous vegetables in season. Who eats “lampaka” and “bukel” nowadays? From a rich diversity of God-given plants, we have manipulated vegetable production to a few cash crops. Kung cabbage, cabbage to the max. Kung patatas, sako-sako ng patatas.
Eating unpolished rice. By milling our rice well because “white” is beautiful, we have removed the health-giving fiber and vitamins and minerals from our precious rice.
Physical activity – we have forgotten we have two feet and two hands so we ride as much as we can and use gadgets as much as we can.
It was easy for us, Igorots, to adopt the western lifestyle and now that we have come to love its comfort and excesses, it is hard to reclaim our healthy indigenous life ways. But as in all our lives, it is a choice. That’s the good news. Nobody is forcing you to buy hotdogs for your kids knowing that these can cause cancer. And for those who have retained or reclaimed the ways of our forefathers, congratulations! May your tribe increase!

“They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” Ephesians 4:18-19

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