Lowering Your Cancer Risk

Cancer prevention information can be confusing — one study may say something that contradicts another you just read. Research is constantly evolving. But one fact that’s stayed consistent is that your lifestyle choices make a difference. While cancer is often unpredictable, there’s still comfort in knowing there are things you can do to reduce your risk — and they’ll help prevent other serious diseases too. To boost your odds, consider the following cancer prevention tips.

Elderly couple walking

How can you lower your risk of developing cancer? Simply said, it’s as easy as clean living.

  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Keep off or lose excess weight.
  • Avoid tobacco use.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Limit processed meats.
  • Protect yourself from the sun.
  • Get vaccinated.
  • Avoid risky behaviors (practice safe sex, don’t share needles).
  • Get regular medical care.

Benefits of exercise

While these tips are mostly self-explanatory, exercise is the most underappreciated and, in my humble opinion, the best cancer prevention tip there is. Not only does exercise help our bodies fight cancer, it also helps relieve pain, improve mental clarity and enhance cardiovascular health. And best of all, for most of us, it’s as easy as taking a couple brisk 15-minute walks a day. No expensive gym membership, fancy clothing or special knowledge required. If you can’t walk, try exercising in your chair or peddling a stationary bike.

Excess weight

Excess weight can be linked to many cancers. It boosts insulin levels and other hormones in our bodies, which can ultimately lead to inflammation. Too much insulin and inflammation may provide an environment more conducive to tumor growth. For men and women, the third most common cancer is colorectal cancer. Obese individuals are at the greatest risk, and people who are overweight are at a higher risk than those at a normal weight.

The fourth most common cancer in both men and women is pancreatic cancer. Overwhelming data shows that people who are overweight or obese have an 18% and 47% higher risk of cancer, respectively, than those within a normal weight range. Excess weight can also induce type 2 diabetes, and people with diabetes have a 37% higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

Importance of nutrition

Nutrition is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight and lowering your cancer risk as well. If you generally follow the USDA MyPlate method for meals and have a few healthy snacks per day, you’re well on your way to healthier living. The MyPlate method is easy to follow and doesn’t have to take a lot of extra planning or money. You should use a 9-inch plate; fill half of it with vegetables, a fourth with a healthy grain (whole grains are the best) and the final fourth with a healthy protein. Add a small glass of milk and a small piece of fruit, and your meal is complete.

Also, incorporate a variety of colors in your fruits and vegetables — this will ensure you’re getting a wide range of nutrients. You may also want to take a few supplements, such as calcium or vitamin D, to get a sufficient amount of these healthy, cancer-fighting agents. To be safe, always be sure to check with your doctor prior to taking additional supplements.

Denver Health Medical Plan Staff Writer