The list of life-threatening cancers seems endless. Skin. Lung. Breast. Prostate. Cervical. Colorectal. Oral. Testicular. But while each disease is different, all of these types of cancers share common ground—they can often be prevented through lifestyle changes or treated following early detection.
While there’s nothing you can do about aging—the biggest risk factor for developing cancer—studies have shown that only 5 to 10 percent of cancers are hereditary. That means you have the power to make healthy choices that can keep some common cancers at bay. Estimates suggest that about 30 to 40 percent of cancers can be avoided through lifestyle changes. Here are ways to help reduce your risk.
Ways to Reduce Your Cancer Risk
“There’s an incredibly strong relationship between cigarette smoking and malignancies,” said Jennifer Ligibel, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Lung cancer is the most deadly, accounting for 27 percent of all cancer deaths among men and women. Secondhand smoke and chewing tobacco also cause cancer, so eliminate tobacco altogether.
Safety in the Sun
Although skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, it’s also the most preventable. While short bursts of exposure to sunshine (15 minutes a day) can give you the vitamin D you need, aim to wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and ideally 30 to protect skin from deadly melanoma, especially during your first 18 years.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, healthy fats, and fish are cancer-fighting foods that help repair DNA. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E; selenium; quercetin; and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Fish and nuts have omega-3 fatty acids that reduce chronic inflammation.
Check in with Your Physican
Get regular screenings. Early detection is critical to fighting cancer, so schedule regular screenings for cancer of the skin (especially if you have a lot of moles), colon, cervix, breast, and other organs as often as your healthcare practitioner recommends.
Everything in Moderation
Limit alcohol. The more you drink, the more you increase your risk of numerous types of cancer, especially if you drink excessively. While resveratrol in red wine has been linked to
heart health, it does not have anticancer properties. So drink in moderation.
Maintain a healthy weight. The majority of the American population—70 percent—is considered overweight, and that’s a significant issue for our nation’s health. “We know that people who are leaner are less likely to develop cancer,” said Dr. Ligibel. “And regular physical activity is linked to a lower risk as well.”
Supplements for Cancer Prevention
Consider vitamin D. Although it’s ideal to get as many nutrients as you can from whole foods, you can’t always get everything you need. That’s where supplements can make a difference. Increasing your intake of vitamin D in particular may help reduce your risk of certain cancers.
Vaccine for What you Need
Get vaccinated. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical and genital cancers. Kids should be vaccinated at age 11 or 12, as should anyone 26 or younger who didn’t get immunized in their youth. Also, the hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for certain high-risk adults to prevent liver and other cancers. Be sure to ask your healthcare practitioner for guidance.
Years ago people whispered the word cancer, but today there is a slew of information about it. The important thing to know is that the prevention of many cancers is impacted by the way you live your life, so live it well.
“2018 Estimates,” Cancer Statistics Centers, American Cancer Society, www.Cancer.org
“30 Simple Ways You Can Prevent Cancer” by Reader’s Digest editors, www.rd.com
“Cancer Prevention: 7 Tips to Reduce Your Risk,” www.MayoClinic.org, 11/29/17
“Risk Factors for Cancer,” National Cancer Institute, www.Cancer.gov
Personal communication: Amy Goodson, Jennifer Ligibel, 3/18