About one-third of the 1.5 million cases of cancer that occur each year in the U.S. could be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR).
Cancer generally refers to abnormal cell growth in your body due to damage or mutation in certain crucial genes, particularly the DNA of cells.
Many factors promote or initiate gene damage, such as smoking, poor diet, infections, cancer-causing chemicals and exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Preventive measures, including some basic lifestyle changes, can help stop the onset of some types of cancer and potentially save your life.
Here are top 10 things you can do to reduce the risk of cancer.
1. Say No to Smoking
Cigarette smokers have the highest risk of developing lung cancer. Smoking also increases the risk of other cancers, such as those affecting the larynx (voice box), mouth, esophagus (gullet), throat (pharynx), liver, stomach, bowel, bladder, pancreas, kidneys, cervix, ovaries, nose and sinuses. It can also be a factor in some types of leukemia.
Many chemicals in cigarettes, such as benzene, polonium-210, benzo[a]pyrene and nitrosamines, cause damage to the DNA including key genes that protect against cancer.
Chromium in cigarettes makes things worse by helping poisons like benzo[a]pyrene adhere more strongly to your DNA. Also, arsenic and nickel can turn damaged cells into cancerous cells by interfering with pathways for repairing damaged DNA.
So, it’s good to quit smoking completely and avoid being exposed to secondhand smoke. Several natural methods can help ease the process of quitting.
According to a study by Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, acupuncture lowers the urge of nicotine cravings by enhancing serotonin levels in the plasma and brain tissues.
Hypnotherapy is another great tool that could help you quit. Meditation and a simple massage on the hand or ears are also helpful.
2. Abstain from Alcohol or Drink in Moderation
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism analyzed more than 200 studies and concluded that alcohol intake is linked with increased risk for cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus and larynx. It also increases the risk for cancers of the stomach, colon, rectum, liver, female breasts and ovaries.
Drinking alcohol contributes to tissue damage, leading to DNA changes in the cells and gradually cancer. It even prevents DNA repair and suppression of tumor immune surveillance.
So, abstain from alcohol or drink in moderation to reduce your cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of table wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof hard liquor.
3. Be Physically Active
Besides reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, various moderate- and vigorous-physically intensive activities may cut your cancer risk by helping you control your weight.
Obesity is one of the leading risk factors of several cancers. Being physically active also improves your immune system functioning by balancing your hormone levels.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that physical inactivity increases the risk of certain cancers, such as colon, endometrial and lung cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends weekly activity for adults of at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activities, such as running; or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activities, such as walking, biking, housework and gardening.
Also, make sure you limit the amount of time you spend lying down, sitting and watching television.
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Overweight and obese people are more likely to get cancer. Obesity is strongly associated with changes in the physiological function of the adipose tissue, leading to insulin resistance and chronic inflammation.
These factors increase the risk of different types of cancer. Obesity is also linked to increased risk of recurrence as well as both cancer-specific and overall mortality.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), excess weight and obesity increase the risk for esophageal, liver, kidney, colorectal, advanced prostate, endometrial, ovarian, pancreatic, gall bladder and post-menopausal breast cancer.
If you are obese or have extra fat around your waist, take necessary steps to lose weight slowly but steadily. Ask your doctor or dietician for help in developing a plan to achieve your goal.
5. Protect Yourself from Harsh Sunrays
Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is primarily caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds.
AICR suggests that UV rays with higher energy can remove an electron from an atom or a molecule to convert them into ionizing radiation. This ionizing radiation damages the DNA of your cells, which may lead to skin cancer.
However, exposing yourself to early morning sunlight for 15 minutes daily is beneficial, as it helps produce vitamin D that helps regulate cell growth, limit inflammation and even prevent cancer cells from spreading.
To reduce the risk of skin cancer, avoid exposure to midday sun. If you need to go outside, stay in the shade as much as possible. When not possible, cover as much exposed skin as you can by wearing woven, loose-fitting clothes.
Sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat can protect your eyes and skin from direct sunrays. Also, apply a sunscreen liberally on your skin and reapply it often.
Since indoor tanning beds and sunlamps are as damaging as natural sunlight, avoid them as well.
6. Regular Health Screenings
Regular health checkups and cancer-screening tests can help reduce the threat of a full-fledged cancer by catching it at an early stage.
If you are woman over 40 years of age, get a mammogram to screen for breast cancer at least once a year.
Men and women should opt for colon-cancer screening beginning at age 45.
Adults should consult their doctors and follow a suitable testing plan for various other cancers, such as rectal, oral, cervical, uterine, lung and prostate cancers.
Although screenings do not necessarily prevent cancer, they definitely enable early detection, when it is much easier to treat.
7. Avoid Excessive Use of Antibiotics
Antibiotics can only cure bacterial infections. They cannot treat colds and influenza caused by certain viruses. Avoid taking too many antibiotics.
Overuse of antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines may weaken your immune response against cancer. Antibiotics also eliminate the friendly bacteria in your gut that help digest food and nutrients that protect against cancer.
A 2008 study published in The International Journal of Cancer notes that the use of antibiotics can increase the risk of cancer.
Also, a 2010 study published in The Journal of Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety linked antibiotic use with slightly elevated breast cancer risk.
Eat probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha to increase the amount of friendly bacteria in your gut.
If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic for any reason, be sure to ask about any side effects.
8. Limit Radiation Exposure
Both X-rays and gamma rays are human carcinogens or cancer-causing agents.
A 2005 study by the National Research Council found that even low exposure to X-rays and gamma rays increases cancer risk.
Also, a 2012 study published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians confirmed that cancer risk is associated with external radiation from diagnostic imaging procedures.
Though you can’t entirely avoid exposure to harmful rays, limiting them may help reduce the risk of cancer to some extent. To limit exposure to harmful X-rays:
- Wear a lead apron during medical tests like X-rays and CT scans to protect adjacent parts of your body that are not being imaged.
- Use a lead collar (thyroid shield or thyroid collar) to protect your thyroid gland.
- If you work in radiation-affected areas like uranium mines or nuclear plants, use protective clothing and equipment to safeguard your body against cancer-causing radiation.
9. Adopt a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet is not only important for improving your overall health, but it can play a significant role in reducing your cancer risk.
Make a healthy diet plan that helps you maintain a healthy weight and supply essential nutients to nourish your body.
- Avoid calorie-dense and fat-rich foods, such as French fries, potato chips, and donuts. Instead, choose vegetables, whole fruits, nuts and legumes like peas and beans.
- Minimize your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fruit-flavored drinks and sports drinks, as well as refined-carbohydrate foods, including pastries, candy and sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals.
- Limit your intake of processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, lunch meats, hot dogs and red meat.
- Avoid frying or charbroiling fish. Instead, prepare it by baking, broiling or poaching.
- Choose whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals (barley and oats) instead of products made with refined grains.
- Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables, as they may help prevent cancer by inactivating carcinogens and protecting your cells from DNA damage.
10. Get Vaccinated
Certain viral infections may also increase the risk of developing a cancer to an advanced stage. A 2012 study published in Cancer Prevention Research notes that preventing cancer with vaccines can be quite effective.
Consult your doctor to get immunized against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Hepatitis B can increase the risk of liver cancer. People with sexually transmitted diseases, intravenous drug users and health care workers who might be exposed to infected blood or body fluids are at a higher risk of being infected by hepatitis B. So, they should be encouraged to get vaccinated to reduce their cancer risk.
HPV, a sexually transmitted virus, can cause cervical and other genital cancers. These cancers can be prevented with an HPV vaccine that prevents you from contracting the virus.