Cancer has become one of the most prevalent health issues facing men and women today, with 1.6 million new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2015 alone. Although these numbers can be intimidating, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to be a guarantee.
“There are certain cancer risk factors that are out of our control, like your genetics, your age, or the environment that you’ve been required to live or work in, but there are other risk factors that you can take control of,” explains Linna Li, MD, radiation oncologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “Practicing healthy habits and taking ownership of those risk factors you can control are the most effective ways to prevent cancer.”
Below, Dr. Li explores some of the most common things you can do—starting today—to decrease your cancer risk.
Eat healthy and exercise often
A healthy diet and a regular fitness routine are important components of a healthy lifestyle, and that includes cancer prevention. Although there are many diets or foods out there that claim to prevent cancer, Dr. Li recommends eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day and nuts, as long as you aren’t allergic. Lean meats and whole grains are also part of a healthy diet.
Coupled with a healthy diet, a regular fitness routine can help lower cancer risk. Aim for 22 minutes of moderate daily exercise, when you are out of breath and can talk but not sing, or 11 minutes of rigorous exercise, when you cannot talk or hold a conversation.
While smoking is most often considered a risk factor for lung cancer, the truth is that smoking can be a risk factor for almost every type of cancer. If you are currently a smoker, stop. The benefits of quitting smoking begin immediately, and the sooner you quit, the lower your cancer risk.
Limit alcohol intake
There is room for alcohol in your diet, but limit it to one drink per day if you’re a woman of any age, or a man older than age 65. Men under the age of 65 should limit alcoholic drinks to two per day.
Adults often overlook doctor’s appointments, but one appointment you shouldn’t be overlooking is important cancer screenings, like mammograms, prostate screenings, colonoscopies, and cervical cancer screenings. Although each of these cancer screenings have recommended ages at which they should begin, you may need to begin screenings earlier based on your health history. Talk to your physician, who can recommend which cancer screenings are right for you.
Ask about genetic risk assessments
If members of your immediate family, like parents, siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents, have been affected by cancer or there’s a significant history of cancer in your family, you may be a candidate for a genetic risk assessment.
“As awareness about the role of genetics in cancer risk increases, more hospitals have begun to offer genetic cancer risk assessment programs, which can help patients at a greater risk for cancer manage those risks early on,” explains Dr. Li.
If you think you may be a candidate, talk to your physician. Learn more about genetic risk assessments.
Although many of the habits that can help prevent cancer seem commonplace, Dr. Li says that, despite repeated warnings, many men and women still have difficulty practicing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. She admits it can be difficult, but offers a tip to get started.
“Successful people have a trick to developing good habits; they link an existing habit to something they want to do,” she explains. “For example: At work, every time you get up to use the restroom, take a two-minute walk up and down the stairs. Or every evening, when you get up for a snack, eat a handful of nuts or vegetables first. These small lifestyle changes will add up over time, and are key to preventing cancer and contributing to a longer, healthier life.”
Main Line Health has four cancer centers dedicated to the early detection, treatment, and prevention of breast, prostate, colorectal, lung and other cancers. Visit our website to learn more about Main Line Health cancer services.