It seems every time you pick up a newspaper, thumb through a magazine or flick on the television, you see another nerve-wracking report about a newly discovered cancer-causing substance or behavior.
While many things can cause cancer, some risk factors are far more powerful than others. Here are some lifestyle changes you can make that are most likely to reduce your risk of getting cancer—without reducing your life to one big list of forbidden activities.
1. Quit smoking. As everyone knows by now, smoking causes cancer. It’s responsible for nine out of 10 cases of lung cancer in men and eight out of 10 in women. Smoking is also linked to cancers of the mouth, lip, throat, stomach, bladder, pancreas, cervix and kidney. Some 30 percent of cancer deaths are attributed directly to smoking.
But it’s not only smokers who suffer the ill effects of cigarette smoke. Those who live, work or socialize with them do, too. Few people realize that the smoke that comes from a lighted cigarette held in a smoker’s hand contains twice as much tar and nicotine as the inhaled smoke does. It also contains three times as much of a compound called 3,4-benzpyrene (a cancer-causing agent), five times as much carbon monoxide and up to 50 times as much ammonia.
One of the best ways to kick the habit is to join a medically supervised smoking-cessation program, which may incorporate nicotine patches and a support group. If you or your kids are breathing someone else’s smoke, ask that person to smoke outside or, better yet, to quit.
2. Watch your time in the sun. That tan, supposedly healthy glow could cause skin cancer down the line. More than a million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually, and the sun is to blame for most of them. Avoid excessive time in the sun, wear a hat and use sunscreen.
Health professionals discourage the use of tanning lamps or beds as a substitute for sun tanning because these, too, expose the body to dangerous ultraviolet rays. Instead, try one of the many tanning creams now available at drugstores and cosmetics counters.
3. Eat more healthful fats and fewer unhealthful ones. In contrast to previous recommendations to consume no more than 30 percent of your calories from fat, researchers now urge people to step up their consumption of certain heart-healthy types of fats—specifically avocados, nuts, salmon, flaxseed and olive oil. Limit saturated fats such as those in full-fat dairy products or red meat. Hydrogenated fats such as those found in packaged cakes, cookies, crackers and chips should be avoided at all costs.
4. Drink only in moderation. Drinking a lot of alcohol on a regular basis increases your risk of developing liver cancer. Heavy drinking is especially risky where cancer is concerned if you combine it with smoking or chewing tobacco.
If you want to protect yourself from cancer, research indicates that you should add foods rich in fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C to your diet. Here’s how:
- Boost your fiber intake by switching to whole-grain cereals, pastas and breads and by eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
- Improve your body’s ability to resist cancer by eating vitamin A-rich carrots, sweet potatoes, peaches, apricots and dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli.
- Protect yourself against gastrointestinal, breast and cervical cancers by eating vitamin C-rich foods such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries and green and red peppers.