Over 1.7 million new cases of cancer and more than 600,000 cancer deaths per year — those are the latest estimates from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and that’s just for America.
Simply put, cancer continues to play a major role in our society’s well-being. Today, the five most common cancers in America are (according to the NCI):
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Colon and rectum cancer
- Melanoma of the skin
With so many different types of cancer and countless variables to consider, it can be hard to know exactly what you should do to limit your cancer risk. Fortunately, there are a few different recommendations you can follow that will not only help prevent cancer but also help you live a healthier life overall.
So in honor of National Cancer Prevention month, here are six steps we recommend you take to help lower your risk for cancer:
Choose a Diet That’s Rich in the Right Nutrients
Diets that favor fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help reduce your cancer risk significantly. This is because diets made up of these different types of foods are often lower in calories and higher in nutrients compared to those that are made up of animal-based and/or highly processed foods.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: At least two-thirds of your meal should be made up of non-starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, or beans.
Limit Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption
Speaking of diets, if you’re a fan of steak, burgers or pork chops, you’ll want to be extra careful about how much you’re consuming.
Research has shown that eating over 18 ounces of red meat per week can increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer, which is a type of cancer that’s becoming more common among Americans. Beef, lamb, and even pork are all considered red meat.
Additionally, excess consumption of processed meats, such as bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, ham, etc., has also been linked to an increased cancer risk due to the preservatives used in preparation.
Bear in mind that no one is telling you that you have to cut these foods out of your diet entirely. As with anything, moderation is key, and simply being aware of what you’re eating — and how much — will go a long way to helping you live a healthier life.
Make Exercise a Priority
Too often, we think of exercise as an activity designed solely for losing weight. And while exercise can certainly help you manage your weight, it has so many other health benefits, too.
AICR recommends you get at least 150 minutes of moderate (or 75 minutes of intense) exercise every week. Here’s how exercise helps limit your cancer risk:
- Abnormal hormone levels are associated with higher cancer risks, and physical activity helps keep your hormones in balance
- Frequent activity can help strengthen your immune system
- Exercise can help your digestive system’s processes which may help get harmful substances through your digestive tract faster
- Consistent physical activity can help you manage your weight and/or body fat levels — both of which have been shown to increase your cancer risk if at unhealthy levels
Not sure if your lifestyle is active enough to help you live healthier? AICR has put together a simple quiz to help you get the answer.
Quit Smoking, Chewing, or Vaping
If you never started smoking, chewing tobacco, or vaping in your life, great job! You’ve already eliminated one of the biggest risk factors for cancer in your life.
If you’re a smoker or use chewing tobacco now, however, we recommend you make quitting a priority above all other items listed in this article. According to NCI, there are 250 known harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke and 69 of them can cause cancer. As for smokeless (chewing) tobacco? There are at least 28 chemicals that have been linked to cancer.
And although vapes and e-cigarettes may be a less harmful alternative for current smokers, studies are still ongoing to determine exactly how they affect the body. Early tests have shown that the vapor inhaled while vaping is far from harmless, however, and it can sometimes include cancer-causing chemicals as well as traces of heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead.
Breastfeed Your Baby if You Can
According to the AICR, there’s strong evidence to suggest that breastfeeding has benefits for both mother and child.
Because it has been shown to help eliminate damaged cells and lower levels of some cancer-related hormones in a woman’s body, breastfeeding can help moms reduce their risk of breast cancer. And babies who breastfeed have been shown to be less likely to become obese — one of the primary health factors in a person’s cancer risk level later in life.
Be Consistent with Medical Checkups
Your primary care provider can help guide you in the right direction in terms of diet and lifestyle choices. And even if you’re the healthiest person alive, you’ll never totally eliminate your cancer risk. Regular checkups and physicals mean your doctor will be more likely to detect any signs of cancer while more treatment options are available.