Researchers continue to uncover factors that may have an impact on our likelihood of developing cancer in our lifetime. Some factors we have no control over, such as aging and family history, but there are many other factors, such as certain lifestyle choices, that people can modify to reduce their risk of cancers. Screening for certain cancers is important for early detection, but there are many things you can do to reduce your own risk of developing certain cancers.
Here are 7 no-brainer lifestyle factors you can adopt to help reduce your risk of developing cancer.
- Quit smoking. Not smoking or quitting smoking lowers the risk of getting cancer and dying from cancer. Scientists believe that cigarette smoking causes about 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States.
- Follow proper nutrition. Diet can also directly affect cancer risk. Some foods, such as processed meats and red meat, can increase the risk of developing cancer, while others, such as fruits, vegetables and foods high in fiber, can reduce the risk of cancer. A much as possible, strive to follow a plant-based diet, like the Mediterranean diet, and avoid processed foods.
- Reduce your weight/avoid obesity. There is consistent evidence that higher amounts of body fat are associated with increased risks of a number of cancers, including colorectal cancer, breast cancer, thyroid cancer and others. Other data suggests that about 30% of breast cancers can be prevented with diet and weight management. Obesity is also a risk factor for developing diabetes – and we know diabetes can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.
- Exercise. In addition to helping with maintaining a healthy weight, studies show that people who are physically active have a lower risk of certain cancers than those who are not. Data demonstrates a strong link between physical activity and a lower risk of colorectal cancer and breast cancer. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults engage in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity each week, muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week, and balance training (think: yoga) for substantial health benefits and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including cancer.
- Decrease alcohol consumption. Recent studies show that increased consumption of alcohol – in even light to moderate drinkers – can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. But studies also show a link between alcohol consumption and oral cancer, esophageal cancer and colon cancer. “Light” to “moderate” drinking is considered to be no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
- Reduce sun exposure. Getting sunburned just once every 2 years, can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer. Sun protection is essential to skin cancer prevention – about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. And, a sunburn doesn’t have to be blistering to be considered dangerous. If your skin has gone pink or red in the sun, it’s sunburnt. Protect yourself! Use at least SPF 15 or higher daily and reapply often if outside, or wear protective clothing and seek shade for longer periods outdoors.
- Get vaccinated. Human papillomaviruses (HPV) infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 80% of sexually active individuals will be infected with at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives, and about one-half of these infections are with a high-risk HPV type. Get vaccinated! Vaccinations can protect people from getting the types of HPV that most often cause genital warts and cancer. The vaccinations work best when given to people when they’re young. Girls and boys should ideally begin getting the vaccine series at age 11 or 12.
It’s important to talk with your doctor about family history and all risk factors, including lifestyle choices, when discussing disease prevention. Your doctor can help you create a wellness plan with choices that will work for you to help reduce your risk of disease.