Can you prevent cancer?
The bad news: New research shows that cancer cases among Americans younger than 50 have increased, especially for women and those between the ages of 30 and 39.
The good news: You can reduce your risk of developing cancer.
“One in three women and one in two men in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime,” explains Dr. Barry Rosen, co-medical director of the Cancer Prevention Program at Advocate Health Care. “Cancer is preventable if people are willing to take a look at their individual risk factors and modify that risk. Furthermore, by creating a screening program unique to one’s risks, we can hopefully identify cancers earlier in those at greatest risk.”
What risk factors should you consider?
To start, Dr. Rosen recommends talking with your primary care doctor about your family history of cancer. This will help you and your care team understand if you should consider genetic testing and develop a cancer screening plan that is right for you. That’s the first piece of the puzzle.
“Based on the evidence, we believe that rising incidents of cancer all over the world are a result of environmental factors – this includes our diet, weight, how sedentary we are, the quality of the air we breathe, smoking history, and the health of our microbiome – rather than heredity or genetics alone,” Dr. Rosen continues. “These environmental factors are modifiable risks. By making positive behavioral and lifestyle changes, we can own our cancer risk and actively reduce it.”
There is consistent evidence that higher amounts of body fat are associated with an increased risk of a number of cancers. It’s important to maintain a healthy weight and eat a plant-based diet – meaning at least two-thirds of what you eat is vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds – that includes lean proteins like chicken and fish which will also support a healthy gut.
To reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including cancer, adults should incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, two muscle-strengthening activities, and balance training each week according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A sedentary lifestyle is another independent risk factor, distinct from physical inactivity. Data shows that for every two hours of sitting, the risk of colon and endometrial cancer increased. Make movement a bigger part of your day and minimize the hours you spend watching TV.
If you smoke, quit.
Limit your exposure to sun, especially when UV rays are strongest in the middle of the day. Even if it’s cool or cloudy, wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, a hat, and clothing that covers your arms and legs if you’re going to be outside for an extended period. These steps can help protect you from harmful UV rays that cause cancer.
“Everyone, no matter their age, can benefit from these risk reducing strategies,” Dr. Rosen explains. “That’s why it’s important to start thinking about these risk factors early. When it comes to cancer, a proactive approach is best,” urges Dr. Rosen. “If you wait for symptoms to develop, unfortunately, it’s often too late.”
About the Author
Kristen Johnson, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing manager with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She previously worked as a speechwriter and staffer on Capitol Hill. She enjoys running marathons, good coffee and exploring Chicago’s many neighborhoods.