Worried about cancer? Here are 5 concrete things you can do to reduce the risk

When it comes to the C-word, there are a lot of anxiety-inducing statistics out there. For example, cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, and the second leading cause of death in the United States.

It’s important to note, however, that cancer is a catchall term applied to diseases caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Cancer isn’t one disease. It is many different diseases in fact more than a hundred. Sounds scary, but that’s not necessarily bad news.

According to the World Health Organization, 30-50% of those cancers can be prevented. Even better, it’s been estimated that the right lifestyle modifications can stop up to 75% of cancer-related deaths.

Those are some pretty empowering stats.

You know what they say knowledge is power. So here’s your chance to make healthy lifestyle changes now to avoid a cancer diagnosis (and possibly save your life) later.

(Your future self is giving you a big thumbs up right about now.)

Not to mention being proactive about cancer prevention is probably the most cost-effective “treatment” out there.

If you want to do what you can to avoid a cancer diagnosis, let’s take a look at the top five risk factors, and what associated lifestyle changes will help minimize your risk of developing cancer.

1. Smoking (30% of cancer-related deaths are due to tobacco use)

Suggested lifestyle change: This one might seem obvious simply quit smoking, right? Well, yes, but… it’s not that simple. Even if you’ve never smoked a day in your life, if the people in your life do smoke, you are still at higher risk of developing cancer. So if your friends are smokers, don’t accompany them when they head outside to get their nicotine fix. And make sure they understand your home is a non-smoking environment. While it is their choice if they want to smoke or not, you should have a say about keeping your own lungs healthy.

Trying to break the habit? Here are 10 tips to help you quit smoking even if your last attempt was unsuccessful. 

2. Obesity (30% of cancer-related deaths are due to obesity and diet)

Suggested lifestyle change: Try to eat more fruit, veggies, fish, and high-fiber options, while cutting down on red meats, deep-fried foods, and saturated fats. Practicing portion control and counting calories can also help. A program like Weight Watchers makes it easy to keep track of how many calories you’re consuming. And, of course, getting active (see #3) can help you bring your weight down to a healthier number.

Need help with portion control? Here’s what your dinner plate should look like.

3. Lack of activity (5% of cancer-related deaths are due to lack of exercise)

Suggested lifestyle change: Incorporate some form of movement into your daily routine and exercise at least three times a week. Sitting is the new smoking, so don’t delay! If you’re low on time or savings, it can be as low-maintenance as taking a walk during your lunch break, getting off one stop early during your commute, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Looking for new ways to get active? Here are some ways to change things up.

4. Viruses (5% of cancer-related deaths are due to preventable viruses, like the hepatitis viruses, HIV, and the human papillomavirus)

Suggested lifestyle change: Get vaccinated against viruses, like for hepatitis and HPV. Be sure to check with your primary care provider or chat in with Health Concierge about appropriate annual screenings. And, of course, always practice safe sex and never ever share needles.

Have you been vaccinated? Learn more about cancer-causing viruses and vaccinations.

5. Alcohol use (3% of cancer-related deaths are due to excessive alcohol consumption)

Suggested lifestyle change: We all enjoy a drink from time to time, but like all good things, try to enjoy alcohol in moderation. This means sticking to the recommended amount more often than not. For women, that’s no more than one drink on any given day. And for men, the magic number is two. While celebrations and holidays can sometimes mean overdoing it, binge drinking can have serious health consequences so definitely save this dangerous behavior for special occasions.

Did you know? Smoking and drinking together increases your risk of developing cancer.

Other cancer risks include radiation (e.g., medical imaging studies, residential radon and UV rays) and environmental pollutants (e.g., asbestos, benzene, aromatic amines, and PCBs), so try to avoid these when possible.

Of course, there are some unavoidable risk factors, like age, genetics, and family history, but if you fall into a high-risk category, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your very best to reverse a possible diagnosis. Just because your uncle had cancer doesn’t mean it’s inevitable that you will as long as you do your best to make healthy lifestyle choices.

A final thought: Researchers continue to look into new ways to prevent and treat cancer, but if something sounds too good to be true, check the source. Unfortunately when it comes to cancer, myths abound, and it’s important to know what information is evidence-based and what isn’t.

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