I tell my patients all the time: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to cancer, an ounce of prevention can be lifesaving.
Many types of cancers are linked to lifestyle. Some of the most common cancers such as lung cancer and colon cancer have clear lifestyle-related risk factors. Some cancers that can be hard to treat, such as pancreas cancer, have lifestyle-related risk factors where a healthy lifestyle can help reduce risk.
Healthy lifestyle choices can help lower your risk for cancer and many other diseases. They can also improve your overall health.
By now everyone knows that smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. What many people don’t realize, however, is that smoking is related to many other forms of cancer as well, including cancer of the mouth and throat, stomach cancer, kidney cancer, and bladder cancer, to name a few.
- Talk with your healthcare provider about aids for quitting. This can include nicotine patches and some prescription medicines.
- Get help from ex-smokers.
- Create a plan for quitting.
- Pick a quit date and stick to it.
- Get help and more information from Smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Stay at a healthy weight
Overweight and obesity are significant risk factors for as many as 13 different cancers, including breast cancer, colon cancer, and pancreas cancer. Even a modest reduction in weight can help reduce cancer risk.
- Talk with your healthcare provider for help if you need to lose weight. Losing even a little weight is good for you.
- Once you're at a healthy weight, take steps to maintain it.
Physical activity is a great way to improve overall health and maintain healthy body weight. But even people who are not overweight benefit from physical activity. Lack of physical activity is itself a risk factor for cancer, even in people who are otherwise healthy. A sedentary lifestyle has been associated with increased risks for lung cancer, endometrial cancer, and colon cancer.
- Get regular physical activity.
- Take walks, garden, or do other activities you enjoy each day.
- Do errands on foot or bike, not by car.
- Join a walking or biking club.
- Limit the time you spend sitting to do things. This includes watching TV, playing video games, or using a computer.
Eat a healthy diet
It is impossible to overstate how important our diet is to our health. A healthy diet is the first line of defense against many health problems. Diet impacts risk for cancer in countless ways, well beyond the association between obesity and cancer.
Processed and chargrilled meats have been linked to increased cancer risks, particularly of the colon and rectum. Emerging evidence suggests that any amount of alcohol consumption is a risk to health. Even modest alcohol consumption can increase the risk of cancer, and increased alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, and liver cancers. Many are surprised to learn there is also an increase in female breast cancer associated with alcohol consumption!
- Eat fewer red meats and processed meats.
- Eat at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily, especially leafy greens.
- Eat more whole grains instead of refined grain foods.
- Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day if you’re a man and 1 drink a day if you're a woman.
- Limit high-calorie foods and drinks.
- Read food labels to be more aware of calories and portion sizes.
Protect yourself from hazards
Environmental exposures account for many hidden risks of cancer. Squamous cell skin cancer is the most common form of cancer and while it is frequently very easy to treat, it can be often be avoided altogether with sun exposure precautions. Melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, is associated with sun exposure as well. Reducing sun exposure is important in protecting yourself from skin cancers.
- When outside during the day, use sunscreen that has a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or greater.
- When out in sunlight, wear a hat and sunglasses.
- Seek shade in the middle of the day when the sun is strongest.
- Be aware of all hazardous products at work or in your home.
- When working with hazardous products, wear protective clothing
Talk with your healthcare provider about cancer screenings
Regular screening can help prevent some types of cancer such as cervical and colorectal cancer. Regular screening for these types of cancer can find and remove abnormal areas before they become cancer. For some other types of cancer, screening may help find cancer early, when it's small. This is when treatment is most likely to be work better. Here are some ways you can screen for certain types of cancers:
- Breast cancer. Breast self-awareness, self-exams, and mammograms.
- Skin cancer. Self-exam, professional exam, a biopsy of any changes that might be cancer.
- Cervical cancer. Pap test and HPV tests.
- Colorectal cancer. Screening for blood or DNA in stool, and colonoscopy or other tests to look inside the colon.
- Prostate cancer. PSA blood test with or without a digital rectal exam.
- Testicular cancer. Self-exam and professional exams.
- Lung cancer. Annual low-dose CT scan (for current or past smokers) based on guidelines by the American Cancer Society.
Talk with your healthcare provider about your family history and your cancer risk. Together you can decide on the cancer screening plan that's best for you.
Learn more about Touro's Cancer Care at touro.com/cancer.
Dr. Thomas Atkinson earned his medical degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Arkansas. He then completed internship and residency training in Internal Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans. He remained at Tulane for fellowship in Hematology and Medical Oncology and was elected Chief Fellow for his final year of training. Dr. Atkinson's areas of specialty include Classical Hematology as well as Lung and Head and Neck Cancers. He also has clinical interests in Integrative Oncology and Palliative Oncology. He has published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at national conferences in the field of cancer care. He enjoys practicing Oncology because of the potential to affect positive changes in patients' lives. Dr. Atkinson believes that every patient is special, with unique needs and circumstances, and he understands the importance of communication in the partnership between patient and physician.