Westernized Lifestyle Fueling Cancer in Zimbabwe?

I just read an article titled “Prostate Cancer on the rise Among Zimbabwean Black Men.” It made a few interesting claims:

It is not clear that the use of sexual enhancing drugs or early testing could be a reason for the rise in prostate cancer among black men,” he said. “The kinds of diet we are taking which are increasingly becoming westernised and a combination of sedentary lifestyles is one of the attribution. More studies need to be done to analyse cancer patterns and incidences in Zimbabwe.” (sic.)


“Oncologists say cancer control in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, involves meeting the challenge of emerging cancers associated with westernisation of lifestyles (large bowel, breast and prostate)…”

At first glance, I thought it was a bit of a long shot for the article to claim that a “more westernized lifestyle” could be a main contributor to the increase in prostate cancer incidence in Zimbabwe. I am no cancer expect, and so I decided to do a little bit of research. It turns out that the claim contains some truth. A more westernized lifestyle – sedentary living, “richer diet, smaller families, delayed childbearing and reduced breast-feeding” and rising obesity – all contribute to the increase in the incidence of certain cancers.

I will use breast cancer as an example. Breast cancer constitutes about 20% of all cancers worldwide. It affects almost only women, over 60% of whom are over 40 years old. Recent studies have found that women who breastfeed longer, give birth earlier, and have more children are at a much lower risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. [A study has shown that when mothers who breastfeed longer still get breast cancer, they do so 10 years later than mothers who don’t breastfeed]. If we agree that a “westernized” lifestyle is characterized by little or no breastfeeding, having fewer children and ‘delaying’ childbearing, it follows that such a lifestyle increases the risk of contracting breast cancer.

This is not to say that these factors are the most important. Alcohol consumption, smoking and diet are still the most important controllable factors. Still, it is known that the western diet results in generally higher cancer risks. High intakes of red meat, fatty foods, refined grains and desserts, and even alcohol consumption, all typify this diet. All these things are linked with higher cancer rates. Therefore, it does seem to be the case that a westernized lifestyle, which includes the diet, is associated with higher cancer risks.

But does it result in higher prostate cancer risks, as my first article suggests? Probably. Another Harvard Medical School article says that countries in which men eat westernized diets (with large amounts of meat), the incidence of prostate cancer is higher than that of the other countries. However, it says, no study has proven it as a definite cause-and-effect case.

But, as I have shown, there is strong evidence that a so-called westernized lifestyle is associated with higher cancer risks. This may be the case with prostate cancer in Zimbabwe, as the main article suggests. How to combat this problem is a mammoth topic. The article itself suggests further studies. For now, it suffices to say that there is some truth in the statement: “the rise in prostate cancer incidence among black Zimbabwean men is partly caused by more westernized diets.”

More research to come in future. Fight cancer!



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