While there are cancer risk factors that aren’t always completely in our control, there is a category of risk factors that is: Lifestyle. Jean-Paul Sartre said “We are our choices” and this holds true when it comes to health.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Healthy Lifestyle
The daily choices a person makes can contribute to either bad health or good health and these same choices can impact the level of risk for developing cancer. Additionally, should cancer develop, lifestyle choices can affect a patient’s prognosis. The bottom line, the healthier your lifestyle, the more you reduce your cancer risk.
Risk Factors and Recommendations
If you can do something or avoid something and decrease your cancer risk, wouldn’t you? There are a wide range of things that you can do to support a healthy lifestyle and the first step in actually accomplishing those things is knowing what they are. So, without further ado, here is
- Alcohol– Drinking alcohol may increase a person’s risk of developing cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, liver, and breast. The more a person drinks, the higher the risk. We also want to point out that there is no research-based evidence that drinking a glass of red wine a day reduces the risk of cancer. When it comes to alcohol, it’s a general rule: more is worse for your health.
- Diet – A well-balanced diet with mostly vegetables, fruits, and herbs, in addition to whole grains and a variety of proteins, is best. Many of these whole foods have cancer-fighting benefits as well. For more information on specific cancer-fighting foods, visit The American Institute for Cancer Research’s (AICR) list of Foods that Fight Cancer. The City of Hope also has beneficial information in the way of “superfoods,” which you can see on their website. Foods and drinks that a person should keep to a minimum include those high in saturated fats, high in salt, and high in sugar. This doesn’t mean you can never have dessert or anything fried (who doesn’t love fried chicken?), but foods like these should not be a regular part of a person’s diet. Additionally, as a general rule, natural and unprocessed is always better.
- Obesity – Those who are obese may have an increased risk of several types of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Maintaining a healthy weight with regular exercise and a healthy diet is essential to a healthy lifestyle, which, in turn, decreases your cancer risk.
- Physical Activity – Being physically active helps maintain a healthy weight, improves and optimizes circulation, and improves the health of your muscles, bones, and even organs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.” To get the most out of exercise, it is recommended to include a variety. Sticking to just one form of exercise is beneficial at the beginning, but as the body adapts to that exercise, it will achieve less.
- Sunlight – Overexposure to sunlight and its ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes skin damage and premature aging of the skin that could lead to skin cancer. Protect your skin with sunscreen and/or clothing when spending extended periods of time in the sun. It is important to note, however, that while “overexposure” is dangerous, limited/safe exposure does provide some benefit in terms of vitamin D.
- Tobacco – There is NO SAFE LEVEL of tobacco use. According to NCI, people who quit smoking have substantial gains in life expectancy when compared to those who continue to smoke.
Understanding Your Cancer Risk
Inherited cancer risks are a reality, though they do not guarantee a cancer diagnosis. Additionally, the lifestyle choices a person makes can still impact their level of risk as well as their prognosis in the event of a diagnosis, even with inherited risk. Knowing whether you have a genetic predisposition for certain cancers can help you make the best decisions for a healthy lifestyle.