Cancer is not always a case of bad luck. Often the power is in our hands to stay healthy. February is cancer prevention month, a perfect time to emphasize the lifestyle changes we can all make to reduce our risk of getting many forms of cancer.
The American Institute of Cancer Research estimates that approximately one-third of annual cancer cases in the United States could be prevented with lifestyle changes. One-third — that's nearly 400,000 cases of cancer that need never happen if we alter our eating and activity habits.
How to lower your risk of getting cancer
- Don’t smoke
- Eat well
- Move more
- Get and stay lean
- Limit alcohol consumption
Allow us to elaborate.
1. Don’t smoke — Tobacco use is a leading cause of cancer and of death from cancer. People who use tobacco products or who are regularly around secondhand smoke have an increased risk of cancer because of chemicals in the products that damage DNA. And smoking doesn’t just cause lung cancer. Tobacco products also cause cancers of the esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukemia. Quitting can be hard, so it’s best not to start. However, if you are a smoker, understand that you can reverse some of the damage you’ve done and reduce your risk of getting lung cancer by quitting now.
2. Eat well — Diets high in vegetables, fruits and other plant foods help protect you against nine different kinds of cancer, including colon, stomach and pancreas. So, eat your veggies (and whole grains and fiber)! When preparing a meal, aim to fill at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. There is convincing evidence that red meat and processed meats are a cause of colorectal cancer. Limit consumption of beef, pork and lamb to no more than 18 ounces (cooked weight) per week, and avoid processed meat such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and sausage.
3. Move more — Being physically active reduces your risk of endometrial cancer, breast cancer (post-menopausal) and colorectal cancer. In addition to helping us avoid weight gain (a cancer risk factor, see #4 below), physical activity can help prevent cancer by keeping hormone levels healthy. You do not have to run marathons; you simply need to move your body. Aim for 30 minutes a day of vigorous activity or 60 minutes of moderate activity.
4. Get and stay lean — Carrying excess body fat increases your risk for multiple cancers, including breast (in post-menopausal women), bowel, womb, esophageal, pancreatic, kidney, liver, stomach, gallbladder, ovarian, thyroid, myeloma and meningioma. Extra fat in the body can have harmful effects, like raising hormone levels in the body that affect the way our cells work, increasing our risk of cancer. Scientists have discovered that carrying excess fat around our waists can be particularly harmful — it acts like a ‘hormone pump’ releasing estrogen into the bloodstream as well as raising levels of other hormones in the body. Besides not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself against cancer.
5. Limit alcohol consumption — There is convincing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver and breast, as well as colorectal cancer in men. Alcoholic drinks also probably increase the risk of colorectal cancer in women and stomach cancers. The evidence that all types of alcoholic drinks increase the risk of several cancers is now stronger than it was in the mid-1990s. For cancer prevention, AICR recommends drinking no alcohol. However, experts recognize that modest amounts of alcohol may have a protective effect on coronary heart disease. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to two for men and one for women a day.
While it is not always possible to prevent cancer, there are some things within our control. While changing old habits is not always easy, the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience when it comes to cancer prevention.