In a world full of bad news, here’s a little good: Third to half of everything cancers are preventable.
Cancer deaths have been on the decline for more than three decades—and remain on the decline, despite the spread of the pandemic, according to a a recent report from the American Cancer Society. And they’re reliably declining by a percentage point or two each year, Karen Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society, said. Good luck.
The positive trend is due in part to the development of treatment, including vaccines against cancer to those who have it and prevent it from returning to those who have gone through remission. (There are also vaccines available prevent this from happening altogether.)
But the steady decline in deaths is also due to the fact that so many cancers are preventable—and the word gets out.
Almost 610,000 cancer deaths are expected in the US this year, Knudsen said—a little more than 1,670 per day. The silver lining: “18% of new cancer cases – and 16% of cancer deaths – are caused by things people can change.”
Here are 5 relatively simple lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing cancer—and improve your overall health.
1. Limit your drinking or cut it out completely.
You read that right: Dry. Weather. Full stop.
Alcohol “is now associated with five to six types of cancer,” said Dr. Ernest Hawk, head of the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences division at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. luck. “We used to think there was a cardiologic benefit, but that was largely disproved.”
While the most recent recommendations call for complete abstinence from alcohol to prevent the risk associated with cancer, if you are not ready to cut it out completely, women should not drink more than one drink. a day at most two a day for men, according to Hawk.
2. Avoid known carcinogens like tobacco (and secondhand smoke, too).
Smoking is bad for your health—especially your lungs. That’s not news. But despite the widespread knowledge of the truth, 14% to 15% of the population still smoke, Dr. Ernest Hawk, head of the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences division at The University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center, said Good luck.
Besides being linked to lung cancer, smoking can also lead to other types of cancer such as pancreatic and bladder, added Knudsen.
Those addicted to nicotine “really deserve a lot of attention and help and treatment, which is readily available,” Hawk said. “It’s important to know they’re not alone.”
Most smokers—more than 95%—can’t quit on their own, he said. The best strategy: “a combination of medication with counseling.” If you smoke and are open to quitting, contact your primary care provider for help—or call the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW to talk to a retired coach.
It is worth mentioning that secondhand smoke can also kill. It is responsible for nearly 7,500 lung cancer deaths each year among US adults who do not smoke, According to the CDC. Non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of lung cancer by 20% to 30%. So, avoid it like the plague.
3. Manage your weight with food and exercise.
Doing so will not only improve your heart health and help control your blood pressure, but it will also reduce your risk of developing cancer in the future, experts say.
The best advice: Exercise and eat healthy throughout your life. Some of the tips offered by luck readers:
- Fill about two-thirds of your plate with fruits and vegetables, and the rest with healthy proteins like fish and chicken, advises Hawk.
- Make sure you eat a variety of foods. “Color is important,” says Knudsen, adding that dark green, red, and orange vegetables are preferred, as are fiber-rich vegetables such as beans and peas. And be sure to throw in a generous helping of whole grains, as well as a rainbow of fruit choices. Avoid highly processed foods.
- Make sure you get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75-100 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week, Knudsen recommends.
The closer one is to the higher end of that range, the better, Knudsen said, adding that experts do not yet fully understand why there is a correlation between exercise and reduced cancer.
However, “you should feel good on your treadmill or brisk walk, knowing that you’re not only doing something good for your body, but you’re also taking part in cancer prevention,” he added.
While exercise is important, it is not a cure-all. Make sure you’re not living a sedentary lifestyle or else, he warns: “Get up and move often.”
4. Wear sunscreen and don’t use a tanning bed.
Again, the goal here is to reduce your exposure to sunburns throughout your life, says Hawk.
“Being burned early in life is associated with a long-term risk of skin cancer,” he advises.
When it comes to sun safety, he recommends the following:
- Wear protective clothing.
- Avoid going out in the heat of the sun.
- Wear sunscreen every day.
“All the common things your mom taught you come out right,” he said.
5. Learn about your family’s risk—even if the conversation is uncomfortable.
It is good to know if you have a history of cancer in your family. But it’s especially important to know the cancer history of first-degree relatives—parents, siblings, and children, Hawk advises.
“Whether they have pre-cancerous lesions or cancers, it feeds your risk,” he said.
If relatives have a history of cancer, inform your primary care provider. You will likely be screened earlier than recommended for that type of cancer.
“At least historically, families have been reluctant to share the news of a cancer diagnosis, even with relatives,” he said. “That’s the wrong message. Share exposures, at least with blood relatives, so everyone knows they may be at increased risk.
Some of these lifestyle changes are relatively simple—but we all know that such things are easier said than done. Those looking to improve their overall health and reduce their risk of cancer should know that “you don’t have to do it overnight,” says Knudsen.
More good news: Changes get easier over time.
“Once you start down this path, people always feel better—which is a positive reinforcement,” he added.