We wish we could say that all cancer is preventable if you just follow these steps, but that is not the case. However, research has shown that more than 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed can be attributed to preventable causes. That is why February is dedicated to cancer prevention.
Knowing the actions we need to take and actually taking them, does often require change in our lifestyle. Some of the actions we can take might feel a little easier such as not getting too much sun exposure, skipping the tanning bed, and making sure to have sun protection on when you are exposed. Some actions might feel more difficult like maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, making different food choices and exercising regularly. A clean bill of health will show you the effort is worth it.
These behavior changes are listed as the top contributing factors for cancer prevention:
- Quit smoking: (this includes cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes) Tobacco use has been shown to increase the risk of developing 17 different types of cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese as an adult increases a person’s risk for 15 types of cancer. Talk to your doctor about what is a healthy weight for you.
- Be physically active: Being physically active reduces risk for nine types of cancer. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity 5 times a week.
- Limit alcohol intake: Order smaller portions and drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage.
- Get regular screenings: American Cancer Society cancer screening guidelines by age.
- Get available vaccines: The Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can significantly decrease the risk of several cancers including cervical, throat, tongue, anal, and other genital cancers. The Hepatitis B vaccine decreases the risk for liver cancer.
- Protect your skin from the sun: limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., make sure to wear sunscreen, clothing that covers your skin, and avoid tanning beds.
- Know your family history: Early detection can be key in life saving treatment. Knowing your family history can help you and your doctor plan for regular screenings (which may be recommended earlier with a known family history).
- Follow a healthy diet: AICR’s New American Plate, (⅔ whole grains, vegetables, fruit and beans, ⅓ protein), emphasizes foods that can reduce your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases.
If talking with your family about their health history feels difficult, practice with a friend first. Remind them that knowing their history can help you with early detection and prevention. If you do not have family available to ask about their history, talk to your doctor about genetic testing that may be available.
If getting started with activity is a little overwhelming or you don’t know what you like to do, many exercise programs have classes available online. If you find something you enjoy, you are much more likely to engage in activity regularly. Try lots of options and remember to start where you are.
In this month that focuses on LOVE, show yourself (and those who love you) some love by committing to lifestyle changes that will reduce your risk of being diagnosed with cancer. If you need a little extra support and accountability, you can take the pledge for AICR’s Click, Connect, and Commit campaign which offers a step-by-step guide to incorporate AICR’s 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations in your everyday routine. You will also find a calendar with small steps you can take every day in February to help work towards your long term prevention goals.