Lifestyle Changes to Lower the Risk of Cancer
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, only following heart disease. Each year, almost 1,800,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer, and close to 600,000 people will die of the disease.
Just as the CDC’s name implies, “control and prevention” of cancer are both important focuses. The odds of controlling the disease and improving a person’s chance of survival are greatly improved by early detection that allows cancer to be treated at an earlier stage. Sometimes the diagnosis begins when a patient reports symptoms, but regular screenings also can detect certain cancers, even if a person does not notice symptoms. Screenings include those for:
- Breast cancer—mammograms, other exams, and regular self-examination
- Cervical cancer—Pap tests, HPV tests and pelvic examinations as recommended
- Colorectal cancer—diagnostic tests include colonoscopy (during which precancerous growths can be removed)
- Lung cancer—a low-dose CT scan may be recommended for smokers or former smokers and people older than 50.
Preventive screenings are also available for several other types of cancer. Talk to your health care provider about the screenings that are right for you.
Lifestyle Changes to Start Now
The CDC also reports that many cases of cancer could be prevented if people follow certain lifestyle changes:
Avoid tobacco. Cigarette smoking is linked to almost all cases of lung cancer, and also causes cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, liver, kidney, bladder and several other types. Quit smoking, and avoid breathing in “secondhand smoke,” which can raise a nonsmoker’s risk of lung cancer by 20% to 30%. Smokeless tobacco products also raise the risk.
Protect your skin. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, but we can substantially lower the risk by avoiding too much exposure to sunlight, using sunscreen, and wearing protective clothing. Tanning beds and sunlamps also expose us to ultraviolet rays that can damage skin cells. Do you think you look healthy with a suntan? The CDC says that in fact, a suntan “is a sign of injury, not health.”
Limit alcohol intake. You might have heard that a little alcohol is good for you—but when it comes to cancer, that is not true. The CDC says, “The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for cancer.” Drinking alcohol raises the risk of cancers of the mouth and throat, esophagus, colon, liver and breast. The more you drink, the higher your risk.
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity and being overweight raise the risk of several cancers. We can maintain a healthy weight by changes in our:
- Nutrition. Stay within your daily calorie needs, and eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats such as olive oil, rather than saturated fats.
- Physical activity. Exercise helps us avoid gaining weight. Ask your doctor how much and what type of activities are right for you.
Get tested for Hepatitis C. This condition increases the risk of liver cancer. Treatment can lower the risk.
Get your vaccines. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent most cervical cancers and several other types of cancer. The Hepatitis B vaccine can lower the risk of liver cancer.
Preventing cancer is important throughout life—and remember that age is a top risk factor for many types of cancers. Some older adult reason that if they reach a certain age, they are “out of the woods” for cancer, but that is not the case. More than two-thirds of all new cases are diagnosed in people older than 60, making cancer screening and prevention an important part of healthy aging.