February is National Cancer Prevention month. To show our support, we are sharing some helpful tips and advice about cancer prevention and risk reduction. Cancer researchers make new discoveries all the time. We often hear about new guidelines or recommended actions to reduce the risk of cancer. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, confused, or think that you can’t do everything they are suggesting. Expecting yourself to adopt all the lifestyle changes that cancer research and treatment scientists recommend is unrealistic.
We’ve compiled some of the most important lifestyle and behavior changes that reduce the risk of contracting many types of cancers. No one can overhaul their eating and lifestyle habits overnight. We offer these suggestions so that you can use the information to help yourself make these changes gradually. Besides lowering your risk of getting cancer, these changes will make a big difference in your overall health, your energy level, and the way you feel every day.
Don’t Smoke. If You Do Smoke, Quit!
Luther L. Terry, M.D. was the surgeon general during the 1960s. On January 11, 1964, he shared the first report of the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health with the public. Medical experts knew that smoking could cause lung and laryngeal cancer in men. They saw it as a probable cause of lung cancer in women. They also saw it as the leading cause of chronic bronchitis. Today, we know that smoking increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. We also know that it contributes to chronic respiratory problems like COPD, Asthma, and Emphysema. We have all heard this over and over, but so many cancers do not provide preventative opportunities, but this is one that does. You can drastically reduce your odds of getting lung cancer if you can simply quit smoking!
Think About Diet and Activity
The connection between cancer and diet is undeniable. Your diet and lifestyle choices represent the most important things that you can do proactively to lower your risk of cancer. We know that fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants. The higher the percentage of these foods in your diet, the more antioxidants you’ll be ingesting. These power foods are just as critical to preventing other health problems like obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Replace those unhealthy fats with healthy fats. You can get healthy fat from fresh fish, avocados, olive oil, or grapeseed oil. Look for extra virgin oils that are cold pressed. That means that they’re minimally refined. Consider having one meatless meal every week. You might be surprised at how delicious vegetarian meals can be. You can find fantastic healthy recipes on Pinterest and all over the Internet.
You don’t have to stop eating red meat altogether. Eat it less often and eat chicken and fish more often. Small steps that can lead to big changes!
Moderate Your Alcohol Consumption
According to the American Cancer Society, an abundance of scientific research shows that there is a direct link between alcohol consumption and certain types of cancers, including breast, colon, esophageal, laryngeal, and pharyngeal cancers.
People who drink and smoke are most likely to develop cancers of the esophagus, larynx, mouth and pharynx. In the bodies of smokers and drinkers, alcohol acts like a solvent that absorbs the carcinogenic substances in tobacco, allowing them to penetrate the cells that line the GI tract. The more you smoke and drink, the greater the damage.
Women who consume moderate amounts of alcohol (for example, a few glasses of wine during the week), raise their risk of developing breast cancer. The risk is intensified in women who have a family history of breast cancer. Women whose diets are deficient in Folate (one of the B Vitamins) have an even greater risk of developing the disease. Help yourself by eating more folate-rich foods. Another possible reason that alcohol increases the breast cancer risk is the effect it has on estrogen levels.
Be Smart About Sun Protection – Year Round!
You may think that you only need to worry about protecting your skin from sun damage during the summer. The National Council on Skin Cancer Protection explains that surfaces like sand, snow, and water reflect the sun’s damaging rays, so you can get a sunburn while playing in the snow, skiing or participating in winter snow activities. Whenever you’re out and about, cover the exposed areas on your body with a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Look for products that protect you from the damage of both the UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget to reapply it at least every two hours when you’re in the sun.
Schedule an Appointment for a Yearly Physical Exam
Aside from the things we do to lower our risk of developing any cancer through our dietary and lifestyle choices, you should see your doctor for a regular yearly exam. Have your doctor order any necessary tests and be sure to ask for a blood work-up on an annual basis. Women over the age of 40 should have yearly mammogram screenings. Men and women over 50 should have a colonoscopy every five or ten years, depending on your family history.
Don’t forget that the decisions you make regarding behaviors and activities that contribute to your risk of developing different types of cancers will have an impact on your entire family. You are an example for your children and the choices they make later in life. It can take time to change behavior, but once you get into a healthy routine, you’ll notice how much better you feel.