PHILADELPHIA (January 7, 2019) – The beginning of the New Year is a perfect time to reflect on your health and to learn ways you can reduce your risk for cancer. While every risk for cancer cannot be controlled, such as family history and aging, there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your risk for the disease, like eating right, staying active and not smoking.
“Getting regular recommended cancer screenings is just as important as modifying your lifestyle to reduce your risk,” said Elias Obeid, MD, MPH, Director of Breast, Ovarian, and Prostate Cancer Risk Assessment at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Regular screenings can greatly increase your chances of detecting cancers early, when they’re most likely to be curable and before you begin having symptoms.”
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 1.7 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2018, and about 609,640 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US, exceeded only by heart disease. Consider these steps you can start incorporating into your lifestyle today to reduce your risk for cancer:
Get regular screenings.
Screening tests are available for many types of cancers, including breast, colorectal, prostate, cervical and lung. Through screening, certain cancers can be detected early, before they have had a chance to grow and spread. “Individuals should talk with their doctor about their specific risk factors as well as when to start and how often to receive cancer screenings,” said Obeid.
In addition, your family history or heredity may change your risk for certain cancers. “Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Risk Assessment Program includes a team of physicians, nurses and genetic counselors to help individuals and families determine their risk of getting cancer through clinical and genetic evaluation and screening,” said Obeid. “We provide every patient with an individualized plan for cancer screening, based on an individual’s family history, genetic information and other risk factors.”
Eat healthy and be active.
Research shows that a poor diet and not being active are key factors that can increase your cancer risk. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition.
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of several cancers, including those of the breast (in women past menopause), colon and rectum, endometrium (the lining of the uterus), esophagus, pancreas, and kidney, among others.
“Watching how much you eat can help control your weight and keep your body mass index (BMI) at healthy levels,” said Obeid. “If you’re overweight, losing even a small amount of weight has benefits and serves as an excellent starting point.”
Everyone should limit foods high in calories, fats and sugars. Aim for at least two-and-a-half cups of fruits and vegetables a day. For those who drink alcohol, men should consume no more than two drinks per day and one drink per day for women.
The ACS recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or equal combination), preferably spread throughout the week. Being physically active not only lessens your cancer risk by helping with weight control, but it can also help improve your hormone levels and how your immune system works. Exercise additionally helps decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Quit smoking and using tobacco.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Smoking causes cancers of the lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukemia. It has been found to harm nearly every bodily organ and organ system in the body and diminishes a person’s overall health.
“No matter how long you have smoked and no matter what your age, quitting can reduce your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases,” said Obeid. “The best advice I can give is to quit, and if you’ve never smoked, don’t start.” Even being around those who smoke can increase your cancer risk through exposure to secondhand smoke. Every year, more than 7,300 nonsmokers die of lung cancer from secondhand smoke.
Don’t get too much sun.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US, according to the ACS. More skin cancers are diagnosed in the US each year than all other cancers combined. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. While most exposure comes from the sun, other exposure comes from manmade sources, including tanning beds and sun lamps.
“While some sun exposure might be beneficial to vitamin D levels in the body, UV rays can damage the skin in as little as 15 minutes, no matter what time of year it is,” said Obeid. When outdoors, play it safe by seeking shade, applying sunscreen, and wearing sun-protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses. Avoid indoor tanning completely.
“Examine your skin regularly for unusual spots and spots that change in size, shape and color. If something doesn’t look right, bring it to your doctor’s attention immediately,” said Obeid.
To learn more about cancer risk and resources, visit FoxChase.org.