Most cancers can be prevented. Unfortunately, most people remain unclear about the key steps they can take to lower their risk. Some healthy behaviors can go a long way toward improving your health and lowering your risk of many cancers as well as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis. And they’re not as complicated as you might think.
So take control of your health, and encourage your family to do the same. Choose one or two of the behaviors below to start with. Once you’ve got those down, move on to the others. These ways to prevent cancer provide the greatest benefit for the most cancers and can also go a long way toward preventing other serious chronic diseases, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Keeping your weight in check is often easier said than done, but a few simple tips can help. First off, if you’re overweight, focus initially on not gaining any more weight. This by itself can improve your health. Then, when you’re ready, try to take off some extra pounds for an even greater health boost. To see where you fall on the weight range. Carrying extra weight, particularly being obese, has been strongly linked to an increased risk of cancers of the breast (after menopause), colon, kidney, pancreas, esophagus (adenocarcinoma), ovaries, and prostate. And there is growing evidence that obesity also increases the risk of leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and cancers of the liver and gallbladder.
Tips: Integrate physical activity and movement into your life, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, choose smaller portions and eat more slowly, limit children’s TV and computer time, encourage healthy snacking on fruits and vegetables, encourage activity during free time.
Few things are as good for you as regular physical activity. While it can be hard to find the time, it’s important to fit in at least 30 minutes of activity every day. More is even better, but any amount is better than none.
Tips: Choose activities you enjoy. Many things count as exercise, including walking, gardening and dancing. Make exercise a habit by setting aside the same time for it each day. Try going to the gym at lunchtime or taking a walk regularly after dinner. Stay motivated by exercising with someone. Play active games with your kids regularly and go on family walks and bike rides when the weather allows. Encourage children to play outside (when it’s safe) and to take part in organized activities, including soccer, gymnastics and dancing.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Despite confusing news reports, the basics of healthy eating are actually quite straightforward. You should focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains and keep red meat to a minimum. It’s also important to cut back on bad fats and choose healthy fats more often. A healthy diet is key to overall health and can help lower the risk of many cancers. While news coverage of the links between diet and cancer have been confusing at best, and misleading at worst, there is solid evidence that the way we eat has a real impact on cancer risk. A daily multivitamin with folate can provide a nutrition insurance policy as well as added protection against certain cancers and other chronic diseases. Folate is a B vitamin that has been shown to lower the risk of colon cancer, as well as breast cancer, in women who regularly drink alcohol. The calcium and vitamin D in most multivitamins may also help provide added protection against colon cancer (21, 24).
Tips: Make fruits and vegetables a part of every meal. Put fruit on your cereal. Eat vegetables as a snack. Choose chicken, fish or beans instead of red meat. Choose whole-grain cereal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread over their more refined counterparts. Choose dishes made with olive or canola oil, which are high in healthy fats.
You’ve heard it before: If you smoke, quitting is absolutely the best thing you can do for your health. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also far from impossible.
Tips: Keep trying! It often takes six or seven tries before you quit for good. Talk to a health-care provider for help. Try to quit as soon as possible. If you smoke, your children will be more likely to smoke. Don’t smoke in the house or car. If kids breathe in your smoke, they may have a higher risk of breathing problems and lung cancer.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
While the warm sun is certainly inviting, too much exposure to it can lead to skin cancer, including serious melanoma. Skin damage starts early in childhood, so it’s especially important to protect children. Too much sun exposure is a well-known cause of skin cancer, including serious melanoma. With melanoma rates rising steadily from year to year both in the United States and worldwide, proper sun protection is a key public health message.
Tips: Steer clear of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (peak burning hours). It’s the best way to protect yourself. Wear hats, long-sleeve shirts and sunscreens with SPF15 or higher. Don’t use sun lamps or tanning booths. Try self-tanning creams instead.
Protect Yourself From Infections
Although not well known by the general public, infections play an important role in the development of some cancers. Approximately 23 percent of all cancers in lower income countries are linked to infections.
Among other problems, sexually transmitted infections – like human papillomavirus (HPV) – are linked to a number of different cancers. Protecting yourself from these infections can lower your risk.
Tips: Aside from not having sex, the best protection is to be in a committed, monogamous relationship with someone who does not have a sexually transmitted infection. For all other situations, be sure to always use a condom and follow other safe-sex practices. Never rely on your partner to have a condom. Always be prepared.
Get Screening Tests
There are a number of important screening tests that can help protect against cancer. Some of these tests find cancer early when they are most treatable, while others can actually help keep cancer from developing in the first place. For colorectal cancer alone, regular screening could save over 30,000 lives each year. Talk to a health care professional about which tests you should have and when.
It’s almost never too early to help our kids and grandkids build lifelong healthy habits, and it’s almost never too late for adults to start considering these ways to prevent cancer.