An estimated 1.8 million new cases of cancer occur each year in the United States alone. These include all types of cancers, with the five most common being breast cancer, lung and bronchial cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and skin melanoma. It has been estimated that a third of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. Some of those cancers are easily treatable; some have no cure, which is why healthcare today focuses on cancer prevention as well.
To help raise awareness about cancer and the efforts to stop it, February has been designated as National Cancer Prevention Month with February 4th named World Cancer Day. These special events exist to teach the public about cancer and the ongoing effort to eradicate it worldwide. However, when it comes to cancer, its causes are not always something you can control. A person’s likelihood of developing the condition is often influenced by hereditary factors, aging or other attributes. There is one aspect of cancer prevention we can control – our lifestyle.
Lifestyle changes to prevent lung cancer
Last year, cancer researchers in England reaffirmed that lifestyle changes could have prevented 4 in 10 cancer cases. Tobacco has been linked to lung cancer, throat cancer, mouth cancer, bladder cancer and about a score of other long-term diseases and health issues. Today, after all of the studies have been made public and talked about time and time again, there is no reason for anyone not to understand just how harmful smoking can be. So, if you’re looking to prevent cancer, this is the first step. It’s such an essential step that choosing not to do this almost makes all of the other prevention tips moot. Smokeless tobacco has also been linked to cancer. Even those who inhale second-hand smoke have a higher risk.
According to the American Cancer Society, smoking can reduce a male smoker’s life by nearly 12 years and a female smoker’s life by almost 11 years. It’s the contributing factor to 30% of cancer deaths in the United States, and it’s responsible for 80% of lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer is also one of the most challenging cancers to treat.
Cancer prevention through fitness
Being out of shape has been linked to increased risk for cancers of the breast in women past menopause, colon and rectum, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, and pancreas. It’s estimated that 8% of cancer cases in the United States are thought to have been triggered by excess body weight.
Being active comes with many rewards, but one of them may be your body’s heightened ability to fight certain types of cancer. Recent studies have shown that being moderately active for 150 minutes per week or vigorously active for 75 minutes per week can significantly reduce a person’s risk for breast cancer and colon cancer. Limit your sedentary behaviors such as watching TV, sitting or lying down with other physical activity as much as you can. Many researchers say the goal is to try and add at least 30 minutes of activity per day. This activity needs to include aerobic exercises that push oxygenated blood through your body and strengthen your cardiovascular system as a whole.
It’s important to note that this exercise can help reduce your risk, even if it doesn’t directly affect your body weight.
Routine care as skin cancer prevention
Much like tobacco use, the damages of sun exposure are well-known at this point. Staying in the sun unprotected for too long can lead to sunburns and other complications, leading to skin cancer. However, this is easily preventable using a high broad-spectrum sunscreen (at least 30 SPF) even on cloudy days to block both harmful UVA and UVB rays and stay in the shade whenever possible. Don’t forget to follow the sunscreen’s directions to reapply – especially if you’ve been sweating or swimming.
Stay proactive and limit your sun exposure. Avoid the sun during peak hours, from about 10 am to 2 pm. Tanning beds are just as harmful as natural sunlight—our recommendation is to skip it altogether. You want to make it so that harmful UV rays have as little chance as possible of actually making contact with your skin. If you do get burnt or spend a lot of time in the sun, apply moisturizers or aloe to ensure your skin can keep itself healthy as it recovers from the damage.
Preventing cancers with nutrition
Your dietary choices can help or harm your risks of getting cancer. Much research needs to be done to learn more about how nutrition and cancer risk are linked, but it’s important to eat consistently healthy meals in the meantime. You can increase or reduce your risks for certain types of cancer-based on what you eat. Consider the following:
◦ Certain foods – red meats, for example, and certain saturated fats – have been linked to higher colon and prostate cancer rates.
◦ Processed foods are also known to increase one’s risk of cancer.
◦ Plant-based diets that are rich in nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables are healthier in general.
◦ High-fiber/antioxidant diets are also considered one vital part of any cancer prevention regimen.
◦ It is also known that specific diets, such as a Mediterranean-based diet rich in olive oil and mixed nuts, can lower breast cancer risk.
Self-control can prevent cancers
If we’re talking about vices to avoid, we might as well throw this one out there too. If you consume alcohol, make sure you drink in moderation. The more you drink, the higher the risk of developing cancer, and alcohol consumption has been linked with these cancers: mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast cancer.
This statistic might confuse you at first because numerous studies have shown that drinking a glass of wine or beer can be beneficial. That is true and why we’re not saying, “don’t drink,” — we’re just saying drink in moderation. That means take it easy and don’t drink too much. Most experts say that an average of one drink per day is perfectly fine and can help. More than that, however, and the extra work placed on the liver increases its risk for various diseases, leading to cancer in the long term.
Early detection of cancer
Finally, one of the most useful things you can do to stay cancer-free is to regularly screen for pre-cancerous signs. Whether it’s colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer or any of the more than a hundred types of cancer we know of, regular medical checkups and screenings can prevent cancer. If the best offense is a good defense, you should look at these screenings like your best defensive measure. They help you stay aware of your body’s condition, and should cancer – or a pre-cancerous area – be detected, then that early detection can be the key to preventing serious problems later on.
Cancer prevention in North Carolina
A healthy lifestyle is a reward on its own, but its long-term benefits for cancer prevention will be a worthy investment. If you’d like to get a checkup or speak with a doctor about your genetic cancer risk, or if lifestyle changes can reduce your risk, Personalized Hematology-Oncology offers primary care services to help you feel your best.