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You've probably heard conflicting reports in the news about what can or can't help you in terms of cancer prevention. The issue of cancer prevention gets confusing — sometimes what's recommended in one report is advised against in another. What you can be sure of when it comes to cancer prevention is that making small changes to your everyday life might help reduce your chances of getting cancer. Try these seven cancer prevention steps.
All types of tobacco put you on a collision course with cancer. Rejecting tobacco, or deciding to stop using it, is one of the most important health decisions you can make. It's also an important part of cancer prevention. Avoiding tobacco in any form significantly reduces your risk of several cancers, including:
- Voice box (larynx)
- Acute myeloid leukemia
In the United States, cigarette smoking is responsible for about 90 percent of all cases of lung cancer — the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Every time you smoke a cigarette, you inhale more than 60 substances (carcinogens) that can cause your cells to become cancerous. In addition, the tar in cigarette smoke forms a sticky brown layer on the lining of your lungs and air passages. This layer traps the carcinogens you've inhaled.
Smoking cigars and pipes or chewing tobacco isn't safe either. Compared with nonsmokers, cigar and pipe smokers have higher rates of lung cancer, as well as cancers of the larynx, esophagus and mouth. Chewing tobacco also increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, cheeks and gums.
Even if you don't smoke, reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke. Each year, about 3,000 nonsmokers die of lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.
Though making healthy selections at the grocery store and at mealtime can't guarantee you won't get cancer, it may help reduce your risk. About 30 percent of cancers are related to issues of nutrition, including obesity.
The American Cancer Society recommends that you:
- Eat an abundance of foods from plant-based sources. Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. In addition, eat other foods from plant sources, such as whole grains and beans, several times a day. Green and dark yellow vegetables, beans, soybean products and cruciferous vegetables — such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage — may help reduce your risk of colon and stomach cancers.
- Limit fat. Eat lighter and leaner by choosing fewer high-fat foods, particularly those from animal sources. High-fat diets may increase your risk of cancers of the prostate, colon, rectum and uterus.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Your risk of cancers, including oral, esophageal and other cancers, increases with the amount of alcohol you drink and the length of time you've been drinking regularly. Even a moderate amount of drinking — two drinks a day if you're a man or one drink a day if you're a woman, and one drink a day regardless of your sex if you're over 65 — may increase your risk.
Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly also may play a role in cancer prevention. Obesity may be a risk factor for cancers of the prostate, colon, rectum, uterus, ovaries and breast. Physical activity can help you avoid obesity by controlling your weight. Physical activity on its own may also lower your risk of other types of cancer, including breast cancer and colon cancer.
Try to be physically active for 30 minutes or more on most days of the week. Your exercise sessions can include such low-key activities as brisk walking, raking the yard or even ballroom dancing. Safe exercise programs are available for just about everyone. Your doctor or physical therapist can help design one for you.
Skin cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer — and one of the most preventable. Although repeated exposure to X-rays or contact with certain chemicals can play a role, sun exposure is by far the most common cause of skin cancer.
Most skin cancer occurs on exposed parts of your body, including your face, hands, forearms and ears. Nearly all skin cancer is treatable if you detect it early, but it's better to prevent it in the first place. Try these tips:
- Avoid peak radiation hours. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation peaks between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Minimize or avoid being outside during these hours.
- Stay in the shade. If you go outside, minimize your sun exposure by staying in the shade.
- Cover exposed areas. Wear light-colored, loosefitting clothing that protects you from the sun's rays. Use tightly woven fabrics that cover your arms and legs, and wear a broad-brimmed hat that covers your head and ears.
- Don't skimp on sunscreen. Make sure your sunscreen has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
- Don't use indoor tanning beds or sunlamps. These can damage your skin as much as the sun can. There's no such thing as a healthy tan.
Certain cancers are associated with viral infections that can be prevented with immunizations. Talk to your doctor about immunization against:
- Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B can increase your risk of developing liver cancer. Vaccination is recommended for all babies in the United States. Certain high-risk adults also may need to be vaccinated.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer. The Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine to prevent HPV in 2006.
Talk to your doctor about whether you would benefit from immunizations to reduce your risk of cancer.
Reduce your risk of certain cancers by avoiding risky behaviors that can lead to infections that may increase your risk of cancer. Viruses transmitted sexually or by sharing contaminated needles include:
- HPV. HPV increases your risk of cervical cancer or penis (penile) cancer. The more sexual partners you have in your lifetime, the more likely you are to have HPV.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). People with HIV or AIDS have an increased risk of anal cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, lymphoma and Kaposi's sarcoma. People with multiple sexual partners and intravenous (IV) drug users who share needles have an increased risk of HIV.
- Hepatitis B and C. Chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection can increase your risk of liver cancer. Both forms of hepatitis can be passed through sexual contact with an infected person or sharing needles with an infected drug user.
Reduce your risk of these cancers by avoiding risky behaviors. Practice safe sex by using condoms, limiting the number of sexual partners you have or abstaining from sex. Never share needles. Seek help for your addiction if you use drugs.
Regular screening and self-examination for certain cancers may not prevent cancer, but it can increase your chances of discovering cancer early — when treatment is more likely to be successful. Screening should include your skin, mouth, colon and rectum. If you're a man, it should also include your prostate and testes. If you're a woman, add cervix and breast cancer screening to your list. Be aware of changes in your body — this may help you detect cancer early, increasing your chances of successful treatment. If you notice any changes, see your doctor.