The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that about one third of the cases of most common cancers in the US could be prevented by eating healthy, being active, and maintaining a healthy weight. This translates to 374,000 cases of cancer that could have been prevented just in the last year.
So how can we prevent cancer? We all know that guarantees do not exist when it comes to cancer, but there is evidence that making healthier lifestyle changes reduces the risks of cancer. The very first step in doing so begins by understanding your risks. Once you know them, you can start making small everyday changes to decrease those risks. You can check out this very helpful tool, Understand Your Cancer Risk, from the AICR that will show all of the factors that decrease and increase your cancer risk, which can be sorted and filtered by gender and cancer type.
And now, here are 4 main lifestyle changes people can make to prevent cancer:
1. Eat Healthy
- Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer.
- Aim to be at the lower end of the Body Mass Index (BMI) range – becoming overweight or obese can lead to increased cancer risk. (BMI calculator)
- Avoid sugary drinks that are high in calories. They contain very little nutrients and do not make us feel full. Water, unsweetened tea and coffee make good alternatives.
- Aim to fill at least two-thirds of your plate with a variety of plant foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes), which are good sources of phytochemicals.
- Limit consumption of red meats (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, sausages) that are high in sodium.
- Limit alcohol consumption to 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women a day.
- For recipe inspirations, check out AICR’s database of Healthy Recipes and Foods That Fight Cancer, or one of our recipes from our blog.
2. Be Active
- You can begin by taking this short quiz for assessment: Are You Active Enough?
- Regular activity is shown to help avoid weight gain and prevent cancer.
- Limit sedentary behavior and be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
- Build easy exercises, like walking, into your daily routine and slowly increase the length of your workout and the level of intensity as you get comfortable with your routine.
- Eventually aim for 60 minutes or more of moderate activity, or 30 minutes of vigorous activity, every day for maximum health benefits.
3. Don’t Smoke
- Tobacco, smoked or chewed, is deadly and increases the risks of cancers of the lung, throat, mouth, esophagus, pancreas, kidney, and bladder.
- Remember that exposure to second-hand smoke can increase the risk of these cancers as well.
- Quitting is not easy, but it is never too late to stop and your health will benefit immediately once you do. Take small steps by slowly reducing the amount of smoking and try finding a support group that can help you through the process.
- Here is American Cancer Society’s Guide to Quitting Smoking.
- And for those who have recently quit smoking, here is a useful page on Help for Cravings and Tough Situations.
4. Get Screened
- Remember that early detection is key. Cancers in their early stages are the most treatable, so make sure to get screened regularly.
- Know the warning signs and symptoms and perform self-exams, along with regular check-ups.
- Get immunized – HPV and hepatitis vaccines.
- Find out if you are at a higher risk of certain cancers because of your family history. If you do have a family history of some cancers, you may need earlier and more frequent screenings, so it is important to discuss this with your health care professional.