The National Cancer Institute estimates that by the end of 2015, more than 1.5 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and more than half a million people will die from cancer.
These are grim statistics, but there is hope. You have the power to reduce your risk for developing cancer through conscious lifestyle changes – regardless of your age, gender, or family history.
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Cancer risk factors you can control
Cancer is scary, but you can control many factors that affect your risk. Below are four cancer risk factors you can control with a little planning and determination.
- Schedule regular screenings: Mammograms, CT scans, PAP smears, and colonoscopies are not fun – we get that. But a few moments of discomfort can be the difference between detecting cancer at a treatable stage and letting it go undetected too long.
- Cancer screenings often are needed just once a year – some much less, some more frequently.
- If you have a family history or personal history of cancer or other risk factors, you may need additional screenings.
- There is not a universal recommendation for prostate cancer screening. Men, check with your doctor to see if you should be screened for prostate cancer.
- Manage your weight: Obesity causes changes in insulin resistance and hormone levels, which may promote the growth of tumors.
- Eat a healthy diet including plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and water. Filling up on healthy foods leaves less room for unhealthy foods.
- Aim for 30 total minutes of physical activity, five days per week.
- Shoot for a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 for optimal health. You can easily calculate your BMI based on your height and weight.
- Get moving: Excessive sitting has been dubbed the new smoking – in other words, living a sedentary life can increase your risk of developing many cancers.
- Women who sit for 6 hours per day have an increased risk of death of 37 percent; for men, it’s 17 percent.
- The average adult spends more than half of each day sitting or participating in other non-active behaviors.
- Simple fixes can help you become more active: step in place during TV time, switch to a standing desk at work, and take 15-minute walk breaks every few hours during the day.
- Avoid tobacco: Smoking or using chewing tobacco increases your risk for more than just lung cancer. The chemicals in tobacco products get into your bloodstream and are carried throughout your body.
- There is no safe level of tobacco use – even social tobacco use is dangerous.
- Tobacco use contributes to at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths.
- Ten years after a person quits smoking, their risk of dying from lung cancer drops by half.
Lifestyle changes can seem daunting at first, but the end result is worth it. Take them one at a time. Start by scheduling your screenings, then work on your diet. Next, add more movement to your day. Ask your doctor to help you find the right balance in your life.
Cancer risk factors you can’t control
Some cancer risk factors can’t be controlled, but that doesn’t mean your fate is sealed. You can still decrease your cancer risk by being proactive.
- Genetics: If you are at high risk for cancer due to your family history, consider getting genetic testing.
- Genetic testing gives us a sneak peek at your DNA, which provides clues about your risk for certain cancers.
- Your physician can suggest lifestyle adjustments and preventive measures for your unique genetic cancer risk factors.
- Age: Age is a significant risk factor for cancer overall.
- Half of all cancer cases occur in people age 66 or older.
- Talk with your doctor about maintaining a healthy lifestyle as you age.
Work with your physician to determine the best diet, exercise, and screening plan for your individual circumstances. Even though you can’t stop time or change your DNA, your doctor can work with you to actively manage your cancer risk factors.
Guides for common cancers
Our physicians are putting together specific guides to outline prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and life beyond five common cancers: breast, lung, cervical, prostate, and colon cancers.
We chose these common cancers to separate the facts from the myths. We want you to know how to reduce your cancer risks by making the conscious decision to get screened and live a healthier life.
Each of the cancers we’ll discuss have a genetic component, so we’re also creating an overall cancer genetics guide. It's important to consider how your genes affect your individual choices for cancer prevention.
Ultimately, you are your best advocate for your health. It’s your right to ask questions and get the answers you need. Our cancer guides will prepare you to ask the important questions about cancer prevention, and treatment if the need arises. Watch for a new guide to be released on our website each month, and join us in our pledge to Call Out Cancer – get screened, continue learning, and be proactive.