6 Ways to Lower Your Cancer Risk

By Sara Bondell - February 05, 2024

An estimated 2 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2023, and more than 600,000 died from the disease. According to the American Association for Cancer Research, more than 40% of those cases and nearly half of the deaths can be attributed to preventable causes such as smoking, obesity and excessive exposure to the sun. 

February is National Cancer Prevention Month. It’s the perfect time to evaluate your lifestyle and make health a priority. Here are six tips to lower your cancer risk:

  1. Watch your diet. Research shows certain dietary patterns can help with disease prevention. A nutrient-rich diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and healthy oils should take up most of your plate. The Mediterranean diet is a great example; it is high in antioxidants and known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Red and processed meats, unhealthy fats, sweets and alcohol are discouraged. Remember, there is no single “best” diet for everyone. It’s important to work with your doctor to help create a healthy dietary pattern that you can maintain.
  2. Stop smoking. Smoking can cause cancer and stop your body from fighting it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer, linked to about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Using other tobacco products such as cigars or pipes also increases the risk for lung cancer. Smoking doesn’t only affect your lungs; it increases the risk for more than 10 types of cancers, including bladder, colon and pancreas. Here are some tips to help you quit.
  3. Get screened. Staying up to date on recommended screenings is critical for early cancer detection and decreased risk of death. According to the National Institutes of Health, cervical and colorectal cancer incidence has declined the past few decades by about 55% and 45%, respectively, thanks to screening. Are you up to date on your screenings? Check out our comprehensive screening guides for men and women.
  4. Exercise. Research shows staying active can not only help prevent cancer, but also contribute to better treatment outcomes and survivorship. National guidelines recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week and doing resistance training to strengthen major muscle groups at least twice per week. This could include going on walks, playing with kids or grandkids, doing housework or gardening.
  5. Get the HPV vaccine. According to the CDC, about 13 million Americans will become infected with HPV each year. Although most HPV infections go away within two years and do not cause cancer, there are some high-risk types that persist and can progress to cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, and head and neck cancers. More than 90% of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV, however, almost all cervical cancer can be prevented by HPV vaccination. The vaccine is recommended for girls and young women ages 9-26 and boys and young men ages 9-21. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration expanded the age range guidelines to those between 27-45 who have not been previously vaccinated.
  6. Limit excessive sun exposure. Exposure to UV light causes damage that can lead to skin cancer, including melanoma. People of all ages and skin tones should limit the amount of time they spend in the sun, especially between midmorning and late afternoon. You should also avoid other sources of UV light, such as tanning beds. Follow these sun safety tips to make sure you are protecting your skin:
  • Exposure – Limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when UV is its most intense.
  • Clothing– Protect your skin from sun damage with clothing, including a loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirt and long pants made of a tightly woven fabric. Swimming? Opt for a T-shirt or rash guard while in the water.
  • Hat– Protect your head, ears, face and neck with the shade of a wide-brimmed hat constructed of a tightly woven fabric like canvas (UV rays can penetrate a straw hat). If you wear a baseball cap, use sunscreen on exposed areas like your face, neck and ears.
  • Sunglasses– Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays. Well-designed sunglasses can help prevent cataracts and protect the delicate skin around your eyes from the harmful effects of sun exposure.
  • Shade– Seek shade underneath a shelter, umbrella or tree, especially during the midday hours. Use extra caution near surfaces that reflect the sun’s rays, like water and sand.
  • Sunscreen– 30 minutes before going outside, always apply a waterproof, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 to 30. Don’t forget your ears, the tops of your feet and the scalp. Reapply every two hours.

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Sara Bondell Medical Science Writer More Articles

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