Learning that you or someone you love has cancer can be frightening and life changing. Just hearing the word cancer strikes fear in people. And an estimated 1,735,350 people were diagnosed in 2018.
Some forms of cancer are the result of genetics and may require strong proactive interventions to avoid developing them. One example is breast cancer linked to a BRCA gene mutation. A woman with this mutation may choose to undergo a mastectomy rather than risk breast cancer.
Other types of cancer, however, may be related to lifestyle choices. Lung, liver, and skin cancers can all be influenced by diet, alcohol consumption, and too much sun exposure. Knowing what behaviors can increase your risk for cancer will allow you to make changes that may help you enjoy a longer, healthier life.
Diet can play a vital role in reducing your risk for cancer. That includes not only what you eat but also which foods you should avoid.
A primarily plant-based diet, such as that consumed by residents of the Blue Zones, may help prevent cancer. Blue Zones are those regions of the world where people live the longest. Residents of these areas consume a diet rich in green vegetables, colorful fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. They eat little red meat and avoid dairy products and sugary treats.
Steering clear of ready-to-eat foods like processed meats, canned soups, and frozen dinners may also allow you to stay healthier. These foods all contain a high concentration of preservatives and additives that research seems to suggest will increase your cancer risk.
When it comes to staying active, two separate issues come into play: exercise and not sitting for long periods of time. Both contribute to a healthier life.
Researchers say exercising at least 30 minutes, five times a week, may lower the risk for cancer. You can even break that exercise up into two separate sessions each day. A few low-impact workouts to consider are Pilates, tai chi, walking, swimming, yoga, and cycling.
While exercise is essential, it can’t overcome the negative impact of being inactive throughout the day. In fact, researchers say sitting too much can be as bad for your health as smoking. A sedentary life increases your risk for many forms of cancer, including breast, endometrial, and colon. Researchers say this risk may be related to obesity, which is common in people who are sedentary.
It’s common knowledge that smoking increases your chances of developing lung cancer. Smokers account for 80% to 90% of all lung cancer diagnoses. What isn’t as well-known is that tobacco use is linked to many other forms of cancer. A few examples include throat, kidney, stomach, liver, and mouth cancer.
You don’t have to be a smoker to be impacted. Secondhand smoke is deadly too. More than 41,000 people lose their lives every year as the result of secondhand smoke. If you live or work with a tobacco user, make sure they indulge outside so you aren’t forced to breathe the smoke.
The bottom line is, if you use tobacco of any kind, the best thing you can do to lower your cancer risk is to stop. Talk with your physician about smoking cessation programs.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in this country. An estimated one in five people will develop some form of it during their lifetime. By adopting good sun safety practices, you will likely lower your chances of getting skin cancer.
Applying and reapplying a quality sunscreen is the key. You should do so when you will be outside for any amount of time, and when you are riding in a car.
It also helps to avoid being out in the sun during the middle of the day, when the sun’s rays are the most dangerous. Wearing long sleeves and a hat that shields your face are further precautions you can take.
High alcohol consumption is another behavior that increases the risk for cancer. Colon, liver, breast, esophageal, and mouth cancers are more common among adults who are heavy drinkers.
The alcohol itself isn’t always the problem. Researchers say cancer risk is also increased by some behaviors associated with drinking too much. These include consuming unhealthy foods and leading a sedentary life.
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