It might surprise you to know that more than 50 percent of cancers can be prevented. Experts at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute offer some simple steps you can take to greatly lower your cancer risk. When making changes in your lifestyle, start slowly. Choose one or two things to change and then move on to the others.1. If you’re at a healthy weight, maintain it.
If you’re overweight, lose weight. Maintaining a healthy weight lowers the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, uterus and breast. Try to be more active. Start slowly with whatever activity you enjoy and then build up gradually. Be mindful of how much you eat. Instead of “super-sizing” your meals, choose smaller portions.
2. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
Research shows that moderate to intensive aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of several cancers, including colon and breast. “You don’t have to be a marathon runner, but the more you exercise, typically the greater the beneficial effect,” says Jeffrey Meyerhardt, M.D., MPH, a Dana-Farber gastrointestinal cancer specialist. Any amount of physical activity is better than none.
3. Don’t smoke. If you already smoke, quit for good as soon as you can.
Quitting may be tough, but it’s not impossible. More than 1,000 Americans stop smoking for good every day. Talk to your doctor for help.
4. Eat a healthy diet.
One of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of cancer is to eat a daily diet that is loaded with antioxidants. Try to make fruits and vegetables a part of every meal. Choose chicken, fish or beans instead of red meat. Opt for whole grain foods, like brown rice and whole wheat bread. They offer more nutrients and vitamins than refined foods, like white rice and white bread. “Many of the beneficial nutrients in fruits and vegetables are concentrated in the pigment or rich colors which are often in the skins,” says Stacy L. Kennedy, MPH, RD, LDN a nutritionist at Dana-Farber
5. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to less than one drink a day.
Limiting alcohol lowers the risk of cancers of the breast, colon, rectum, mouth, throat and esophagus. Experts suggest you choose non-alcoholic beverages at meals and parties and avoid occasions that are centered around alcohol. Talk to a doctor if you feel you have trouble limiting the amount you drink.
6. Protect yourself from the sun.
Sunburn increases the risk of developing skin cancer. “It is important that people protect themselves from the sun and make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and melanoma,” says Stephen Hodi, M.D., clinical director of the Melanoma Program at Dana-Farber. Even people of color should wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Apply it often and don’t forget your neck, ears and hands. Apply lip balm with sunscreen. Avoid excessive exposure to the sun, especially during peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at its strongest.
7. Taking a multivitamin with folate.
Folate is a great nutrition insurance policy. In daily doses it helps make sure you’re getting all the vitamins you need to stay healthy, and there’s growing evidence that it can lower the risk of cancer.
8. Protect yourself and your partner(s) from sexually transmitted infections.
Sexually transmitted infections are linked to cancers of the cervix, vagina, anus and liver. Consider not having sex. Abstinence is the best way to protect yourself. If you’re sexually active, always be prepared by having a condom available and following other safer sex practices.
9. Get regular screening tests.
It is also important to get regular screening tests, which can find cancer early when it’s most treatable. In some cases, a test can even help prevent cancer from developing in the first place. There are a number of important tests that can help protect against cancer. Some of these tests can actually help keep a disease from developing in the first place. Talk to a health care professional about which tests you should have and when you should have them.
To learn more about cancer prevention, screening and treatment, visit www.dana-farber.org.