On Your Health

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8 Easy Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

23 March 2022

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Roughly 1.9 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2021, and over 600,000 died from the disease. This makes cancer a leading cause of death in the United States, second only to heart disease. Breast, lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer account for nearly half of all new cancer diagnoses in the US. And lung, colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer account for almost half of all deaths.

Cancer is unpredictable, and you can’t change many risk factors, such as your age or genetics. However, other cancer risk factors are well within your control, including your body weight, diet, physical activity, and tobacco and alcohol use. At least 18 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the US relate to these factors.

What can you do to help reduce your risk of cancer?

By making a few easy lifestyle changes, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing cancer or improve your chances of beating the disease if you are diagnosed. The recommendations outlined here also lower your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and other serious ailments, boosting your odds of living a long, healthy life.

Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity is a risk factor for several cancers, including breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, pancreatic and prostate cancer. The key to slimming down is to take in fewer calories by eating less and burn more calories by exercising. If you’re not sure what your ideal body weight is, consult this body mass index (BMI) calculator.

Stay physically active

Exercise lowers the risk of cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes, even if it doesn’t result in weight loss. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, per week. As a general goal, aim to include 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine. If you can do more, that’s even better! Start small if you need to. Even light-intensity exercise, such as a 10-minute walk, can offset some of the risks of sitting all day.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating a varied diet packed with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and legumes is an effective way to help prevent cancer. On the other hand, eating processed food, red meat and sugar is linked with higher cancer risk. Follow these guidelines to help you adopt a cancer-fighting diet.

  • Eat 2.5 cups, or at least five servings, of fruits and vegetables every day. It’s wise to vary the colors you eat because the phytochemicals found in various fruit and vegetable pigments guard against different types of cancer. Some of the top anti-cancer produce items include blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raspberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, spinach and squash.
  • Get more fiber in your diet to lower the risk of colon cancer. High-fiber foods include whole grains, legumes and vegetables.
  • Choose whole-grain bread, pasta, rice and cereal over refined grains.
  • Limit your fat intake to 25 or 30 grams per day. Then, focus on getting your fat from healthy sources, such as olive oil, nuts, avocados and fish.
  • Eat less red meat, including beef, pork and lamb. The saturated fat in these products may increase the risk of colon and prostate cancer.
  • Eat less processed meat, including bacon, sausage, hot dogs, pepperoni and cold cuts. Because they contain nitrate- or nitrite-based additives, consuming even a small amount of these meats regularly can increase your colon cancer risk.
  • Substitute some of the meat in your diet for legumes, an excellent source of fiber and phytochemicals that may protect against colorectal cancer.
  • Eat fewer sweets and sugary drinks. The weight gain associated with a high-sugar diet increases the risk of obesity-related cancers.
  • Get more vitamin D in your diet to guard against prostate and colon cancer. Foods high in vitamin D include fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified drinks and cereals. You can also take vitamin D supplements.
  • Drink green tea to increase your antioxidant intake. This may help guard against bladder and other types of cancer.
  • Drink coffee for its protective phytocompound content, which can lower the risk of endometrial and liver cancer. Some evidence even suggests that coffee may decrease the risk of mouth, pharynx, larynx and skin cancer. The cancer-fighting effects of coffee are evident in both regular and decaf versions. However, don’t counteract the benefits by loading your coffee with cream and sugar.

Avoid tobacco products

Using tobacco in any form drastically increases your risk of lung, mouth, throat, larynx and other types of cancer. In fact, about 30 percent of all cancer deaths, including 80 percent of lung cancer deaths, are attributed to tobacco use. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. And if you do, quit.

Drink less alcohol

Alcohol consumption increases the risk of several types of cancer. There is no “safe” level of alcohol, and your risk increases the more you drink. The healthiest option is to cut out alcohol altogether, but if you do indulge, limit yourself to no more than one or two drinks per day. Keep in mind that one drink is defined as about 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Protect your skin from the sun

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer—and one of the most preventable. Remember these tips.

  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher before going outside, even on cloudy days.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Seek shade when spending a long time outside.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps.

Test your home for radon

Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths after tobacco use. Radon is a radioactive gas produced by decaying uranium in the soil. This gas can enter your home through cracks in the foundation, floors or walls. Radon is odorless, but inhaling it can damage your lungs. Therefore, testing for and mitigating residential radon reduces your lung cancer risk.

Get regular cancer screenings

Preventing cancer in the first place is ideal, but even if you follow all of these tips, you can never reduce your risk to zero. That’s why regular self-exams and formal cancer screenings are so important. Catching cancer early makes it easier to treat and increases your chances of recovery. Ask your doctor what screenings and tests are right for you.

If a cancer screening comes back positive, your diagnosis changes everything. To receive the best care from some of the nation’s top physicians and state-of-the-art cancer therapies, turn to the INTEGRIS Cancer Institute. With six locations in Oklahoma, you’re bound to find top-notch oncology services near you. Feel free to learn more about us and find a doctor to begin your treatment today.