Latest Thinking

Preventing Cancer

February 4, 2016


This guest blog post about cancer prevention was written by Richard Béliveau.   

Now the leading cause of death in most industrialized countries, cancer is one of the greatest challenges we will likely have to face at some point in our lives. Cancer not only threatens our own existence but it also takes the lives of our loved ones. It deprives us of precious time spent with parents, friends or colleagues who were important in our lives, and our happy memories of them can never fully erase the sadness left by their early departure. Cancer is truly the Grim Reaper of the 21st century, an enigmatic and frightening disease whose devastating potential drains our energy and too often leaves us defeated, resigned to the fact that life has come to a brutal, yet nearly inevitable, end.

The feeling of helplessness we have in the face of cancer may not be warranted, however. Through what is undoubtedly among the most significant medical discoveries in recent years, we now know that most cancers are not merely a stroke of bad luck or an inevitable consequence of aging. Rather, they are a result of the enormous influence that lifestyle has on the risk of developing the disease. Cancer was long considered to be a devastating disease that appeared overnight, but we now know that it is more of a chronic illness that frequently takes decades to reach a clinical stage. We all carry immature tumours, some of which may be at high risk of developing onto cancer, but advances in research have clearly shown that it is possible to delay the progression of precancerous cells by adopting a healthy lifestyle that will prevent them from accumulating mutations and maturing. The main goal of cancer prevention is not so much to prevent cancerous cells from appearing, but rather to delay their progression enough to keep them from maturing in the course of the eight or nine decades of a human life.

Such means exist: over the last 10 years, a flood of baseline and population studies have shown that, without a shadow of a doubt, the high incidence of many cancers in industrialized countries is closely tied to the modern Western lifestyle. It is a direct consequence of the main effects of tobacco use, overweight, physical inactivity and poor nutrition on the development and progression of cancer cells. Discovering this strong dependence of cancer on lifestyle factors was a major breakthrough in the fight against the disease, since it means that nearly three quarters of current cancer cases could have been prevented through mere lifestyle changes. Given the complexity of clinically apparent cancer, no treatment could likely ever rival this positive impact.

Let’s take this opportunity to stack the odds in our favour by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Maintain a healthy weight, eat lots of vegetables, reduce your red meat and deli meat consumption, and exercise regularly!


Richard Béliveau, Doctor of Biochemistry



About Richard Béliveau

Richard Béliveau, Ph.D. in Biochemistry, is the director of the Molecular Medicine Laboratory, a researcher in the Department of Neurosurgery at Notre-Dame Hospital and holder of the Claude-Bertran Chair in Neurosurgery at the University of Montreal Hospital Centre. Richard Béliveau is a full professor of biochemistry at the University of Quebec at Montreal, where he holds the Chair in Cancer Prevention and Treatment. He is a professor of surgery and physiology in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Montreal and an associate researcher at the Cancer Prevention Centre in the Department of Oncology at McGill University. He is also a member of the Experimental Cancer Therapy Group at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and of the Quebec Coalition priorité cancer. He is the author of over 250 papers in various international medical journals. His research topics are cancer prevention and treatment. He is the co-author of the best-sellers “Foods That Fight Cancer“, “Cooking with Foods That Fight Cancer” as well as “Eating well, Living well“. The books have been translated in 25 languages in 35 countries.

Doctor Béliveau is Quebec’s media reference for the connection between nutrition and cancer, and nutrition and chronic diseases. He co-hosts with Mitsou, “Kampaï”, a weekly television program that promotes a healthy lifestyle.

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