Cancer is a disease that does not discriminate. Anyone can get cancer, and unfortunately, one of the single factors contributing to the disease is aging. But don’t get discouraged. There are ways to reduce your cancer risk that you can control.
Here are my top ten tips:
Don’t use tobacco. Smoking is the single most preventable cause of cancer death in society. Smoking damages every organ in the human body, is linked to at least 15 different cancers, and accounts for some 30% of all cancer deaths. Cigars and smokeless tobacco are not a safe alternative to cigarettes. Both have been scientifically linked to several types of cancer, especially of the oral cavities, larynx and lung. The Food and Drug Administration also recently determined that electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, contain cancer-causing ingredients.
Avoid secondhand smoke. Second-hand smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke, also raises your risk of lung cancer. It causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in nonsmokers, according to the American Cancer Society.
Eat a well-balanced, colorful, low fat diet. This doesn’t mean giving up all your favorite foods. The key is moderation. Eating red or processed meats, like hot dogs, or high fat foods, like ice cream sundaes, once in a while won’t make you a sitting target for cancer but they should not comprise the bulk of your diet. Experts say the mainstay of a healthy diet should be plant-based, meaning eating lots of vegetables and fruits; at least five servings per day are recommended. These foods contain important vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants and are usually low in calories. In general, those with the most color—orange, green, red and yellow—have the most nutrients.
Get plenty of physical exercise. The link between physical activity and a reduced cancer risk is well established. Exercise is known to improve hormonal, immune, and metabolic functions in the body and these functions provide protective benefits now and in the long term to lower the overall cancer risk. Exercise also aids in weight control and getting a good night’s sleep, and who doesn’t need that?
Control your weight. Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of several cancers, breast (among women past menopause), colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, and other organs. Being overweight works in a variety of ways to increase cancer risk. One of the main ways experts say is that excess weight causes the body to produce and circulate more of the hormones estrogen and insulin, which can stimulate cancer growth.
Get plenty of sleep. Many health problems have been linked to a lack of sleep and even short periods of sleep deprivation can promote glucose intolerance, cause hormone imbalances and raise blood pressure. While the lack of sleep has not been firmly established to increase one’s cancer risk, top researchers believe it is certainly a possibility. Getting enough sleep does help you control weight gain. Getting too little sleep has been linked to heighten binge eating.
Drink less alcohol. Having more than two alcoholic drinks a day for men, and one for women, increases the risk of many cancers including mouth, throat, larynx, esophageal, liver and breast. One drink is defined as one 12-ounce beer, a cocktail containing 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or 5 ounces of wine—that’s about a standard wine glass about half full.
Protect your skin from sun damage. There are one million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. each year, outnumbering all other cancers combined, according the National Council of Skin Cancer Prevention. Sun exposure adds up day after day, and it happens every time you are in the sun, even if you are indoors, but sitting near a window at home, school or work. Sun blocks are extremely beneficial, but not a silver bullet. It’s a good idea to also wear protective clothing, and when outside use a wide brim hat and sunglasses. Limit sun exposure when the UV rays are the most intense, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Get Screened. OK, regular screening and self-examination for certain cancers may not prevent cancer, but it can increase your chances of discovering cancer early — when treatment is more likely to be successful. Screening should include your skin, mouth, colon and rectum. If you're a man, it should also include your prostate and testes. If you're a woman, include cervix and breast cancer screening on your list. Be your own best advocate by being aware of changes in your body — and if you notice any changes, see your doctor immediately.
Get vaccinated. Certain cancers are associated with viral infections that can be prevented with immunizations. Human papillomavirus or HPV is a very common sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer. Some doctors think it is almost as widespread as the common cold virus. In the United States, more than 6 million people (men and women) get an HPV infection every year and about 50 to 75 percent of all people who have ever had sex will have HPV at some time in their life. The vaccine that protects against two cancer-causing types of HPV is currently recommended for girls, and young women, ages 11 to 26 years, prior to sexual debut. Research is underway to test the vaccine’s efficacy on young males.
Lynette Summerill, is an award-winning journalist who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.