Living a healthy lifestyle can be difficult in our modern world. After all, there are temptations to overindulge in things we know are bad for us at every turn. However, to lower your risk of developing cancer, there are some important changes you can make to your lifestyle right now. The lifestyle choices you make, the amount of exercise you do and the foods you eat all can have an impact on your overall risk and can play a role in preventing cancer.
As you most likely know, cancer is a term used to describe various diseases whereby abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and sometimes invade other tissues. Cancers can spread throughout the body via the lymph and blood systems. There are over 100 different kinds of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The good news is that there are effective treatments — and breakthroughs in treatment of these diseases almost every day — so many people get treated and go on to live normal lives. What’s more, there are many ways to prevent cancer. These don’t need to be huge transformations, but if you want to reduce cancer risk, they should be lifelong changes that are taken very seriously.
Ready to learn how to reduce your risk of cancer? Here are 10 things you can do.
1. Get Cancer Screenings
There are many cancer screening tests available in the U.S. today. These screenings look for evidence of cancer, which oftentimes occurs long before symptoms have appeared. The types of cancer screenings available today include screenings for:
- Breast Cancer. Having regular mammograms can find breast cancer as early as possible. The United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) urges all females between the ages of 50 and 74 to go for a mammogram every two years. If you’re between 40 and 49 years of age, you should speak with your doctor about when and how often to have a mammogram. Additionally, it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of being screened when you’re aged 40 and younger.
- Colorectal (colon) cancer. This cancer usually develops from abnormal growths in the rectum or colon called precancerous polyps. Being screened can find these growths, enabling them to be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening also helps identify colon cancer early, when it’s most responsive to treatment. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force sets out guidelines saying that all adults between 50 and 75 should be screened for this cancer, and people between 76 to 85 should speak to their doctor and ask if they should be screened.
- Cervical cancer. A Pap test can identify abnormal cervical cells that have the potential to turn into cancer. This test can also identify cervical cancer early, therefore making it easier to eradicate. The U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends that if you’re between 21 and 65, you should have a Pap smear every three years.
- Lung Cancer. If you’ve been a heavy smoker within the past 15 years or are currently smoking to excess and are between the ages of 55 and 80, you should be screened for lung cancer on an annual basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Ovarian and Prostate Cancer. There is currently no evidence to suggest that screening reduces ovarian cancer deaths. Similarly, men who have no symptoms of prostate cancer are not recommended to be screened. That said, men with a family history of prostate cancer or other risks factors should speak to their physician about getting a PSA test. Likewise, women who are at risk of ovarian cancer or have a family history of it, should talk to their doctors about getting screened.
- Skin Cancer. There is insufficient current evidence to suggest that routine skin cancer screening should be carried out. However, it’s free of charge to get a SPOTme® screening through the American Academy of Dermatology, which reports that one in five Americans will get skin cancer at some point in their lives. All individuals are encouraged to self-check their skin for skin cancer and see a dermatologist for a skin cancer screening if there is a familiar history of it. Further, any abnormal skin growths should be examined by a dermatologist.
Keep in mind, there are other specialized cancer screenings available, and you’re encouraged to speak to your doctor if you’re at risk of developing a certain cancer type.
2. Get Immunized
There are some vaccinations you can get that help to lower your risk of cancer:
- HPV (Human papillomavirus) Vaccine. The HPV vaccine can help to prevent certain strains of cervical cancer. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, and the vaccine is recommended for children between the ages of 11 and 12, and it is also available for males and females age 26 or younger.
According to the CDC, clinical trials have shown that HPV shots give almost 100 percent protection against genital warts and cervical precancers. In fact, there has been a 64 percent reduction in HPV infections in teenage girls in the U.S. since 2006, when the first vaccine was recommended.
- Hepatitis B Vaccine. The hepatitis B shot can lower your risk of getting liver cancer and is recommended for certain high-risk groups, including people who have many sexual partners, intravenous drug users, men in homosexual relationships, people with STIs and for public safety or healthcare workers who may be exposed to infected bodily fluids. The CDC says that the Hep B vaccine gives more than 90 percent protection to anyone exposed to the virus.
3. Don’t Smoke
Smoking has been linked to a variety of cancers, including:
- Kidney cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Lung cancer
- Mouth cancer
- Throat cancer
- Cancer of the larynx
Chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the pancreas, as well as that of the oral cavity. Even if you’re in the company of people smoking, you’re exposing yourself to secondhand smoke, and this could increase your risk of getting lung cancer.
If you’re a smoker, you should stop smoking. If you don’t smoke, try to stay away from others who might smoke in your company. If you need help quitting, work with your physician who can point you in the right direction of products and strategies that can help.
4. Be Physically Active and Maintain a Healthy Weight
Keeping your weight at a healthy level may lower your risk of suffering from cancers such as kidney, colon, breast, lung and prostate. Being physically active can help with this, and in addition, exercise alone may help lower your risk of getting colon cancer and breast cancer.
To get the most benefit from exercise, the Department of Health and Human Services recommended to either participate in at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, or a combination of vigorous and moderate physical activity. These guidelines are for most healthy adults, but always speak to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
5. Eat Healthy
If you lead a busy life, it can be difficult to prepare healthy meals. If you find that you just don’t have the time, try preparing meals in bulk on weekends or on your days off, and freezing them for use during the week. In addition:
- Eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Aim for a diet that’s based around plant sources including fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Generally speaking, women between 19 and 30 should be eating two cups of fruit a day, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). If you’re older, that should decrease to 1.5 cups. All men over the age of 19 need two cups each day.
- Limit your intake of processed meats. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified processed meats as carcinogens. This means you should limit your intake of any meats that have been treated with flavorings or preservatives. This can include processes like smoking, fermenting, curing and salting, and you should steer clear of eating too many hot dogs, too much bacon, sausage, ham and some deli meats.
In addition, the same body has classified red meat, including goat, lamb, beef and pork as a probable carcinogen. The average person’s lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer is under five percent. However, according to the American Cancer Society, experts reviewed over 800 studies and concluded that eating even one hot dog or four strips of bacon a day increases your colorectal cancer risk by 18 percent.
The American Institute for Cancer Research says you should eat no more than 18 ounces of red and processed meats per week.
- Follow a Mediterranean diet. By eating a Mediterranean diet that includes mixed nuts and olive oil, your risk of breast cancer is reduced. This diet focuses primarily on nuts, legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables. The key with the Mediterranean diet to swap foods, such as butter for healthy fats like olive oil, and eat fish instead of processed or red meats.
- Eat organic. Some pesticides on non-organic food have been classified as carcinogenic, and others have yet to be studied. What’s worrying is that according to U.S. News, farmers who work closely with pesticides have elevated risks of a variety of cancers, such as blood, brain, lung, skin, lip, stomach and lymphatic system cancers. The general rule is if it can’t be peeled, you’re safer buying organic since pesticides don’t tend to wash off easily.
- Be careful using stain-resistant and nonstick products. These generally contain a substance called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is used to cook food without sticking, to stop grease from leaking out of microwave containers and for protecting furniture, clothes and carpets from water and stains.
- This chemical is associated not only with cancer, but with developmental and birth defects, nervous system and brain disorders and immune system problems. Through limiting your exposure to these, you could lower your risk of developing some cancers.
Non-scratched non-stick pans should be safe for use, but if your non-stick cookware is scratched, it’s best to throw it out. In addition, ensure you waterproof your shoes, jackets and backpacks outdoors and wait until they’ve dried to bring them inside. Also, try to avoid waterproofing or applying any stain-resistant chemicals to anything else in your home if at all possible.
6. Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Be aware that your risk of getting cancers including cancer of the liver, kidney, colon, lung and breast increase with both the amount of alcohol you drink, as well as the length of time you’ve been drinking on a regular basis. Advice from the CDC says that moderate alcohol consumption is having one daily alcoholic drink if you’re female and up to two per day if you’re a man.
A standard drink consists of 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. This corresponds to 12-ounces of five percent alcohol content beer, 5-ounces of 12 percent alcohol wine and 1.5-ounces of 80-proof liquor.
7. Protect Your Skin From the Sun
In moderation, the sun can be a good source of vitamin D, which early research is investigating the possible benefits of vitamin D and reduced cancer risk. Remember, though, that skin cancer is one of the most prevalent types of the disease as well as being one of the most preventable. To keep yourself safe, take note of the following:
- Stay in the shade as much as possible when you’re outdoors.
- Always wear sunglasses when you’re out on bright days.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat to protect your face and neck from the sun’s rays.
- Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. as this is when the sun is at its strongest.
- Apply sunscreen generously and often, especially after going swimming.
- Avoid sunlamps and tanning beds, as these are just as harmful as natural sunlight.
- Cover up any exposed areas and wear dark or bright colors that reflect UV rays better than whites and pastels.
8. Don’t Participate in Risky Behaviors
There are certain behaviors that can put you at increased risk of contracting cancers, such as unprotected sex. To ensure you keep yourself as safe as possible, always practice safe sex. Always use protection and limit your sexual partners.
The more partners you have, the more likely you may get an infection that can potentially lead on to cancer. People with HIV and AIDS are also at higher risk of getting lung, liver and anal cancer.
9. Never Share Needles
If you’re an intravenous drug user, don’t put yourself at risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis B and C. Both these forms of hepatitis increase your risk of liver cancers. If you’re struggling with an addiction and are worried about your health, speak to a professional as soon as you can.
10. Make It a Point to Get Regular Medical Care
Yes, life is busy, but you can’t take risks when it comes to your health. Know your own body and regularly examine it so you can tell when something doesn’t seem right. You should also have a talk with your doctor and ask what cancer screening schedule they recommend for you specifically.
Cancer prevention is so much more than taking the occasional trip to the doctor’s office. There’s never any sure-fire way to ensure you won’t get cancer, but by following the lifestyle tips above, you can be as healthy as you can be. If you do get cancer at any point in your life, through early screening and knowing and listening to your body, you can get the rapid treatment you need.
Now you know how to reduce cancer risk in your own life, why not share your findings with those closest to you? Together we can fight this disease.
For more than two decades, Gettysburg Cancer Center (GCC) has provided the greater Gettysburg, PA area with comprehensive diagnostics and advanced cancer treatment throughout. For more information about Gettysburg Cancer Center, contact us at (717) 334-4033 (Gettysburg location) or (717) 698-1564 (Hanover location).