6 Lifestyle Changes that can Help Prevent Cancer

Lady with healthy meal

If you pay attention to health and medical news, it may seem like nearly everything you do can cause cancer. But here’s the good news: there are many things you can do to help prevent cancer, too. A few lifestyle changes can make a big difference in your cancer risk. Since cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States (heart disease is #1), changing is worth the effort.

Change #1: Stop smoking. If you currently smoke, quitting is the #1 change you can make to prevent cancer. Nine out of ten cases of lung cancer are attributed to smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. Cancer risks from tobacco use don’t stop with your lungs; tobacco use also increases your risk for cancers throughout the body. Chewing tobacco increases your risk for cancer of the oral cavity and esophagus, so switching from smoking to chewing tobacco is not a solution. Alternate forms of nicotine use such as vaping or e-cigarettes may be a short-term step to quitting, but, long-term use is NOT recommended.

We know quitting isn’t easy. Your doctor can help you kick the habit, and these tips from the American Lung Association can help, too.

Change #2: Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet can bolster your immune system, helping to prevent cancer and a wide range of other conditions. Improve your diet by:

  • Eating more fruits and vegetables. Move away from the meat-as-centerpiece kind of meal and try to make vegetables the star. Current USDA MyPlate guidelines suggest filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains, and a quarter with protein.
  • Avoiding processed foods. Processed meats (like cold cuts and cured meats) have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Instead try roasted turkey, cooked chicken breast, tuna fish, peanut butter or beans.
  • Choosing healthy fats. Extra-virgin olive oil, avocados and an assortment of nuts all provide healthy fats that may help lower your risk of both cancer and heart disease. Fish like salmon and tuna also provide healthy fats, so try to feature more fish and less red meat in your meals.

For more information and great recipes, visit the American Institute for Cancer Research website.

Change #3: Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above, increases your risk for a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. You can check your BMI on our chart. If you need to lose weight, consult your doctor for a recommendation of the right plan for you. If you are more than 80 pounds above your ideal weight, you may be a candidate for bariatric surgery.

Change #4: Exercise regularly. For the greatest health benefits, experts recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking), or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity (such as running or aerobic dancing), or a combination of the two. If you’re not accustomed to exercising, start slow and gradually increase to that amount. A 2016 study by the American Cancer Society linked exercise with a lowered risk of 13 different types of cancer.

Change #5: If you drink alcohol, moderation is the key. Having more than one drink per day (two for men) is associated with a higher risk of several cancers, including breast, colon and liver cancers, and cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus. The more you drink, the greater the risk.

Note: Serving sizes of common drinks include 12 ounces of beer, 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80 proof distilled spirits (liquor).

Change #6: Protect yourself from the sun. Prolonged, unprotected sun exposure increases your risk for skin cancer. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply frequently. Avoid the sun at midday when it’s strongest, and wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim.

Here’s the bonus: many of these changes that help prevent cancer will also improve your overall health and reduce the risk of other conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Choose one to start with and add others as you gain momentum. Every step forward is another step away from cancer.

Posted Date: 4/20/2020


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