PEDs & Cancer, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo
In our last episode, we covered how cancer is bad and awful but that most PEDs probably aren't going to cause it, only potentially exacerbate it if it's already present. Or so we hope, given the lack of clinical data on PED use and cancer incidence over a lifetime. So, today we're going to expand that to actionable steps that you can do to actively lower your risk.
"But bro, I just want sick gains, wtf does this have to do with sick gains??"
Think of it as a preventative, like doing cardio (which you totally do, right?) to hopefully keep your heart functioning and pumping life-sustaining blood through your body longer than the seemingly average bodybuilding lifespan of "keels over dead in his thirties". Cancer, chemo, surgery and any and all treatments related to cancer are going to significantly impair your gains if you do get it, so it's best to not get it if you can avoid it. Let's work on that today.
"Bro, what even is cancer?"
So a quick recap: cancer is when some of your body's cells decided that they're going to be like the super annoying houseguest who stays way too late and makes everyone else uncomfortable. Imagine the most annoying, obnoxious, socially inept loser in your group that just sort of hangs on by the collective goodwill of everyone too polite to tell them to take them and their "alternative" opinions about the moon landing elsewhere. Except they invite all their friends to your party too. You tell them to shoo, and some of them do, but soon there are more coming than you can remove because they're all inviting all of their equally obnoxious friends too. While you're kicking two out the front door, five more dive in through the windows. You go to bar the windows, and ten have now taken up residence in your kitchen. You try to use a fire extinguisher to hose them out of the kitchen, and now your kitchen is ruined and twelve have scurried in through the front door. And the process repeats infinitely until they take up all of the space in your house, declaring that it's now a sovereign state and something incoherent about the illuminati and veganism, and you can't live in it anymore: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/what-is-cancer
That was actually a little too comedic. I'm going to get really grimdark serious for a sec, so skip this next paragraph if you're deep into suppression from your latest cycle and not feeling mentally well. I'm not kidding.
Cancer is one of the most awful things that anyone can experience, and anyone who loves and cares for that person can experience. At the lowest point, I begged and pleaded with my mother, who weighed under 100lbs, to eat or drink literally anything. I spent all day fixing different shakes and meals trying to tempt her appetite, but as much as she wanted to, she couldn't force herself to take more than a little bite of anything, if that. I held her as she vomited back up whatever tiny amount she managed to get down. I watched the woman who I grew up thinking could move the mountains themselves wither away into a pale facsimile of herself, wasting away on the couch in front of me, leaving me feeling more powerless than I ever have in my life - with a million things left to say and do, a million thoughts of how I wished I had spent more time and had a better relationship with her instead of doing all of the other things I wanted to do with my life, and of the lifetime that might be left unshared. Cancer can not only kill its victim, but does so in the cruelest, slowest, most horrifying and painful way possible, leaving a smouldering crater where a life and a family once were. I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy, and every night I pray to any god who might lend an ear that not another soul has to face this living hell. And we were one of the fortunate ones, as she bounced back and is currently responding well to treatment. I don't know for how long. That fact hangs over me every night.
Okay, that was rough, now back to our regularly scheduled comedy.
"Bruh. I don't want that. I want to lift heavy stuff and look like a Greek god, and live AT LEAST into my fourties. Maybe even fifties? Or... longer?!? How can I train my not-getting-cancer muscle??"
Glad you asked. Just as there are many different exercises to train different muscles and in different ways, there are many ways to reduce your risks of getting cancer. Let's go over some of the ones you've probably aready heard about:
- Don't smoke.
- Avoid pollution.
- Eat vegetables.
It's much more nuanced and varied than that. My primary area of expertise is breast cancer (which, fun fact, can affect males as well, although it's rare) but I've picked up quite a bit of information on other cancers along the way, and will do my best to share my tips on how to reduce your risk in less-obvious ways. Broken down by cancer type:
This is actually one of the less-worse kinds of cancer to get, oddly enough. Survival rates are much better than most, even for its later stages - 99% survival if it hasn't spread, 74% if it has: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/testicular-cancer/statistics
Regular self examination is one of the best ways you can reduce your risk, since cancer that's caught early is far easier to treat. I'll spare the obvious jokes (since you're already thinking of at least twelve and I probably couldn't top them anyway), so here's how to do it properly: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/testicular-cancer/how-to-perform-a-testicular-selfexam-advice-from-urologist-philip-pierorazio
Once again, this can happen in males. Its symptoms are similar to that of gyno, so I assume everyone reading this is going to be hyper-vigilant: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/male-breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20374740
Anyone using testosterone should be getting their PSA levels checked regularly. I'd recommend at least once a year at the absolute minimum, every 6 months is better, and ideally, just tack it on whenever you're getting bloodwork. Don't hesitate to get a prostate exam either. Early detection = greater chance for survival. Some studies indicate that there may be a link with higher dietary fat consumption and prostate cancer risk (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prostate-cancer/in-depth/prostate-cancer-prevention/art-20045641), but not all studies found this association. I personally minimize extra dietary fat myself, but I'm not terribly concerned about this potential association either way. A future article will discuss RAD-140's properties here in depth.
Pygeum africanum extract may be a beneficial supplement to take over the long term, as it has shown to reduce benign prostate hyperplasia in humans (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11869585), and reduce the incidence of (mouse) prostate cancer in vitro and in vivo: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17709901. I personally take it every day; it's cheap and a tiny little thing to add to my daily supplement mix.
Signs to look out for here are any weird changes with your bathroom habits, especially blood. Or increased weight loss that you can't explain. Besides staying healthy, the best thing you can do is increase your fiber consumption: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/colon-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20353669 Colon cancer seems to be especially linked with inflammation, which we'll cover in just a moment.
Don't smoke. I'm sure you know this already, but just in case: Do. Not. Smoke. Other than that, be wary of vaping, as that has shown to potentially be carcinogenic too (due to formaldehyde creation from the carrier oil https://www.mdpi.com/2305-6304/6/3/46 - also, the flavorings themselves might be cardiotoxic https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/ATVBAHA.118.311156). You should check to make sure your house doesn't have radon, too - https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/prevention.html
One point that is not yet clear is the potential link between B vitamin supplementation and lung cancer, which some studies show a correlation with (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30499135) while others do not (https://journals.lww.com/md-journal/FullText/2016/08020/Effect_of_vitamin_B_supplementation_on_cancer.1.aspx). A doctor talks more about it here with some interesting points on the potential effects of dose amount and duration: https://examine.com/nutrition/vitamin-b-cancer/. Further adding to the confusion is the emergence of Vitamin B2 deprivation therapy in cancer: https://www.aging-us.com/article/101351/text
Personally, I try to stick near to the RDAs and supplement only as needed, unless I'm certain that I'm deficient. I never saw a huge performance benefit with supplementing it (and many supplements contain several *thousand* times the RDA!) and so don't see a point in risking it myself.
Minimize sun exposure, as we all know. Don't get sunburned, don't use tanning beds. And get any suspicious spots checked ASAP. All things we should already know https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/prevention-guidelines I don't know too much about it other than it sucks and I try to limit myself to ~15 minute bursts of direct sun exposure.
Another fun one for its implications on a bodybuilding diet. First, don't eat meat that's been burnt, as it's a carcinogen - although it can be mitigated to some extent by adding truly heroic amounts of black pepper (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170516105047.htm). Minimizing red meat consumption in general is a smart idea because neu5gc has been found to be the reason that it's linked to cancer - https://health.ucdavis.edu/publish/news/newsroom/11551, https://www.sciencealert.com/evolutionary-story-of-red-meat-cancer-cmah-gene
I almost love beef more than my dog so this is a tough balance for me personally. I try to stick to around one beef meal a week, take tons of black pepper (it's delicious, anyway!) and rely upon the rest of my diet being super clean. I'm going to be honest, a life without beef tacos wouldn't be a life worth living to me. Hypocritical, perhaps, but we all have our vices. You should be getting most of your meat proteins from the good white meats, fowl and fish, anyway.
Other things to consider:
HGH, and why we don't want to grow tumors
HGH should be avoided if you have any active cancer, as it may cause it to grow faster. Just as you should get your prostate thoroughly screened before beginning testosterone replacement therapy, or otherwise introducing exogenous testosterone into the body, you should be even more thoroughly screened for cancer before considering the use of HGH. However, the use of HGH does not appear to increase the risk of cancer forming in the first place: https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/102/5/1661/2982840
Inflammation, the name of my new indie metal band
"Inflammation" is one of those words that seems to get tossed around a lot by the unkempt hippies found at whichever food store near you is most expensive, usually in the same breath as 'antioxidants', 'cleansing', and 'kale'. However, there is some actual science behind it that's worth looking into.
Long term exposure to inflammation does increase your risks of acquiring cancer, or causing it to spread (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2803035/, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/chronic-inflammation). Now, this is where things get into the weeds: a bodybuilder's lifestyle necessarily involves a lot of inflammation from constantly stressing their muscles by working out, then eating a bunch of pro-inflammatory, protein-heavy food. It's not difficult to imagine that eating dirty and slamming down pizzas and energy drinks to meet your macros could help promote cancer (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3016080/Former-bodybuilder-liver-cancer-given-just-three-weeks-live-says-ll-beat-disease-healthy-eating.html).
However, weight training is one of the best things that you can do to improve your health and reduce your risk of cancer. In fact, science has proven that stronger muscles = reduced cancer risk (http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/18/5/1468). And while in our last post we've already covered the potential cancer risk of heptatoxic anabolic compounds/orals, but just another reminder: do go easy on them in your epic quest for gains: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/cripa/2012/195607/
My personal view on the matter is that like many things in life, moderation is key. So long as your diet is kept relatively clean, bodybuilding is almost certainly going to reduce your risk of cancer when compared to a typical modern diet and lifestyle. Just be smart about it, right? That's what we're all here for.
Organic food, is it worth it?
Another one that's oft bandied about by the hippies is their organic, free-range, gluten-free bottled air. Annoyingly, there's a bit of truth to that one too. Dang hippies.
The primary cause for concern is pesticides such as glylophosphate, better known as Roundup, which has been confirmed to stimulate cancer growth... At levels an order of magnitude lower than the current tolerable levels that they test for: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1383574218300887 If a food is labeled 'organic', it's gone through a more stringent certification process that involves them (hopefully) not using bad things like that.
Side note that "natural" means exactly zip, it's a marketing buzzword that anyone can use. I wouldn't be surprised if Oreos has "natural" somewhere on the package. "Organic" has a legal meaning and carries more weight; while not the be all and end all, it's perhaps the easiest thing you can do, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables, short of knowing the farmer yourself.
Note that heavily processed foods, including fast food and deli meats, are also known to be carcinogens; one more reason that I personally avoid them. https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer.html
On a per-food basis, there are plenty of potential issues - arsenic in rice is a huge concern, for example: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6210429/ This can be minimized by getting your rice from an organic source, ideally one which shares their arsenic testing, rather than whatever is cheapest.
Overall, I strongly encourage everyone reading this to take another look at the foods they eat most commonly and do their own research. There's simply too much to possibly cover here, and it's going to be more or less specific to your sources and your risk tolerance. For me, personally, I stick to organic sources as much as I possibly can, and to whole, natural foods rather than processed, commercial food. I don't worry too much about the occasional red meat or eating rice at a fancy restaurant that I might not be able to find the exact source of their rice and arsenic testing from. But those are once a week, once a month type things; the mountains of food I'm shoveling in on a daily basis to meet my goals is sourced as cleanly as I reasonably can.
It's bad for gains, and it's a known carcinogen. Sorry, not much more I can add to that. Choose wisely. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet
Cell phones and radiation
This is going to be a controversial point. There's plenty of studies with conflicting results - some are certain that cell phones cause cancer, others find no correlation, and then there's the anecdotal evidence that despite seemingly everyone now living through their phones, people don't seem to be getting heads full of cancer at a significantly higher rate than they were before.
That said, one of the current best studies on the matter does find a correlation strong enough that, for me, warrants concern: https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/results/areas/cellphones/
Radiation is a fascinating area of study, but without getting into a deeply technical debate about its intricacies, the bottom line is that when you make a phone call from a cell phone or use other wireless technology, you're exposing yourself to it.
I personally choose to minimize my own exposure as much as I can. I still use my cell phone, sure, because running a business (or even having much of a social life) is nigh impossible in the modern era without one. But when I do, I never use a hands-free set, I usually use it on speaker and hold it at arm's length. At home, I don't use wi-fi nor do I use my cell, since I have a landline and wired internet. I'm the weirdo at the gym who has the old-school arm strap and cable going to my headphones instead of the wireless earbuds that everyone else seems to have. Simple changes like this don't negatively impact my qualify of life in any way, yet might possibly help reduce my chances of getting cancer decades down the line.
So there you have it. Eat well, work out, avoid bad stuff, and get checked early and often. Simple stuff, but now you know how it works and why it's so often touted. Stay safe and cancer-free, bros. Please.