How to Avoid Cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 39.5% of the U.S. population will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. A variety of factors contribute to the development of cancer, from genetics to diet and exercise. Although some factors cannot be changed, others are entirely avoidable. You can reduce your risk for cancer by making a few lifestyle changes. So, let’s learn how to avoid cancer.
Top 5 Ways to Prevent Cancer
Cancer is a genetic disease, in the sense that the disease modifies genes, affecting the way cells function, control and divide. For this reason, cancer has a strong hereditary component because genes are passed on from parents to their children. However, lifestyle choices can also impact whether or not cancer develops – even if you have a genetic predisposition for cancer. You can help reduce your risk of developing cancer by practicing the following five rules.
1. Practice Sun Safety
As fun as a day in the summer sun can be, it can also result in an unhealthy amount of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Without sun protection, a few hours in the midday sun can create a sunburn. A sunburn – or even a tan – indicates that skin cells have been affected by the sun’s UV radiation and can result in wrinkles, sunspots and skin cancer.
The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas. Most cases of skin cancer are basal and squamous. Although these are typically treatable, the interventions can be costly and may require surgery. However, melanomas, are the most deadly. This type of skin cancer tends to spread to other parts of the body and is difficult to treat.
To prevent skin cancer, sun protection is essential. Safeguard against UV radiation by:
- Avoiding going outdoors from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., even on days that are overcast.
- Wearing hats with wide brims that are sufficient enough to cover your face and neck.
- Wearing clothes that cover your arms and legs.
- Using wraparound sunglasses that block both types of UV rays (UVA and UVB).
- Consistently using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more.
- Opting to relax in shady areas.
2. Don’t Smoke or Reduce Your Smoking Habit
Deaths from lung cancer (85%) are caused by smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. Although less people smoke tobacco than in the past, the risk for lung cancer is greater. This increase in risk may be due to the changes tobacco companies have made in their formulations.
Although most people are aware that smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, what they don’t know is that smoking reduces the body’s ability to fight off other types of cancer. Along with lung cancer, smoking may also cause the following cancers:
Health professionals recommend that anyone who smokes should start a smoking cessation program to stop the habit. For everyone else, it is best not to start smoking – especially if you are young. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 90% of adult daily smokers started the habit while they were younger than 18 years of age. During adolescence, the brain is the most susceptible to nicotine addiction, therefore making it more difficult to stop smoking. Campaigns to prevent tobacco companies from marketing to youth often cite this fact, especially in the case of electronic cigarettes and vaping products.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Studies show a connection between obesity and the development of cancer. An estimated 3.5% of cancers in men and 9.5% of cancers in women may be due to obesity. Fat tissue produces hormones, and an excess number of hormones can affect cell growth and cause chronic low-level inflammation. These factors can, over time, cause DNA damage and lead to cancer.
Obesity is said to cause 90,000 cancer deaths each year. Many of these cancers occur in the esophagus, rectum, liver and pancreas – all organs of the digestive system. Despite an apparent connection to cancer, researchers are still unable to pinpoint a direct link. This is because obesity affects the body in a myriad of ways, by raising blood pressure, harming mental health, causing systemic inflammation and affecting bone health. As a person’s body max index (BMI) increases, the chances for developing cancer increase. So, one of the best ways to avoid cancer is to maintain a healthy weight.
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4. Eat a Healthy Diet
The calories a person consumes aren’t always rich in nutrients. It’s possible to eat enough calories and still be malnourished. What’s more, a person can be obese and still suffer from malnutrition. What you eat matters, and when it comes to food and its relationship with cancer, it comes down to quality, not quantity.
Compounds in the environment known as free radicals impair cells (oxidative stress) and cause cancer. Antioxidants, mainly found in nutritious food, block the activity of free radicals and prevent oxidative stress. The following vitamins and minerals are a few common antioxidants:
- Vitamin A.
- Vitamin C.
- Vitamin D.
- Vitamin E.
- Coenzyme Q-10.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the best way to consume antioxidants is through a varied diet full of fruits, vegetables and non-processed foods. High-dose supplementation through tablets and powders, however, may result in negative side effects and even cancer. To get the right number of antioxidants, eat a healthy diet instead.
5. Exercise Regularly
Exercise does more than help you lose weight — it prevents cancer. The belief that exercise can prevent cancer is gaining traction among researchers and health professionals. The American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention states that obtaining a sufficient amount of exercise lowers an individual’s risk for developing breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer. Physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight helps regulate the hormones that impact cancer risk. Furthermore, exercise also boosts the immune system, helping the body fight any cell injury from cancer.
For adults 18 to 65 years of age, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends:
- A total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activities each week.
- Twice-a-week, muscle-strengthening activities that work all muscle groups.
The Secret to Cancer Prevention
It turns out that the secret to keeping your body cancer-free is no secret at all – it is all the recommendations your physician has been encouraging you to do all along! Keeping in mind that there is no magic bullet or surefire way to prevent cancer, there are changes you can make to significantly lower your risk. Work with your physician to ensure that you are doing all you can do to stay free from cancer.
- National Cancer Institute (Cancer Statistics)
- National Cancer Institute (The Genetics of Cancer)
- CDC (Sun Safety)
- CDC (How to Quit Smoking)
- Journal of Obesity (Obesity as a Major Risk Factor for Cancer)
- ASMBS (The Impact of Obesity on Your Body and Health)
- CDC (About Adult BMI)
- MedicalNewsToday (Doctors urged to tackle malnutrition in obesity)
- National Cancer Institute (Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention)
- Standford Health Care (Nutrition Services for Cancer Patients)
- American Cancer Society (American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention)