Did you know that 42 percent of cancer cases — and 45 percent of cancer deaths — in the U.S. are linked to risk factors you can change? This means you can significantly lower your risk of cancer by making some key lifestyle changes. Here are six ways to do it, says Wish Dhillon, MD, an oncologist who is an independent member of the HonorHealth medical staff:
1. Don't smoke
If you don't, congratulations. But if you do, quitting can help you lower your risk of lung, throat, esophageal, renal, bladder and pancreatic cancers, diseases directly linked to smoking. That's because smoking causes an accumulation of genetic mutations in human cells that lead to the creation of cancer cells.
If you're struggling to kick your smoking habit, help is available. Talk to your doctor, who can direct you to resources like social support programs and nicotine replacement therapies to help you quit.
2. Reduce or eliminate alcohol use
Alcohol intake has been associated with an increased risk of many cancers, including cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, breast and colon. In fact, heavy alcohol use leads to the highest risk of cancer. Traditionally, a low level of alcohol intake has been considered safe, but new research suggests that even minimal alcohol intake causes a small increase in the risk of cancer.
"It's also important to note that drinking red wine does not clearly lower the risk of cancer," Dr. Dhillon said.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat or are highly processed can boost your risk of cancer. So are dairy items and red meat. Your best bet? Eat a diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil and nuts to help lower your cancer risk.
4. Make exercise a priority
You already know that exercise is good for you, but did you know it can help you prevent cancer? Physical activity is associated with many health benefits that directly or indirectly lower the risk of cancer, including breast and uterine cancer. Regular physical activity can also help you avoid obesity and diabetes, and it promotes your overall well-being.
"In addition, being slim reduces the risk of many cancers," Dr. Dhillon said.
5. Get vaccinated
Yes, a vaccine can help prevent cancer. That's because certain preventable viruses are linked to cancer. There has been a rapid increase in the incidence of throat cancer caused by human papilloma virus (HPV) in non-smoking young adults. This same virus is also associated with cancer of the cervix. When you get the HPV vaccine, you can reduce your risk of throat and cervical cancer.
Similarly, an infection by the hepatitis B virus can increase your risk of liver cancer. Getting the hepatitis B vaccine lowers your risk of liver cancer.
6. Limit your exposure to sunlight
While you may enjoy an afternoon lounging in the sun, it can be harmful to your health. Exposure to sunlight increases your risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma. You can lower your risk by using sunscreen every time you go outdoors and by avoiding exposure to direct sunlight. Steer clear of tanning beds, too, which are also associated with an increased risk of skin cancer.
While there's no guarantee that you can prevent cancer, taking these steps can reduce your risk of developing it over your lifetime.