6 Ways to Lower Your Cancer Risk
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Your to-do list could fill a book, so we've boiled prevention down to the essential daily habits.
Don't you feel better already seeing the six tips to lower your cancer risk?
1. Nibble a Strawberry
There, you just lowered your cancer risk! "Research suggests the phytochemicals in food can fight cancer by doing everything from preventing cellular changes to stopping the flow of blood to a cancerous tumor," says Sally Scroggs, R.D., of the Cancer Prevention Center at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Make it easy As a general rule, aim to eat 2½ cups of various fruit and vegetables each day in order to get a mix of antioxidants and phytochemicals in your diet. Eat mostly fish, poultry and beans; studies show consuming more than 18 ounces of red meat per week may increase the risk for colon and pancreatic cancer. Keep grains whole: Fiber helps move potentially carcinogenic waste through your system quickly, which may lower the risk for colorectal cancer, Scroggs says. And finally, sip tea, which contains catechins, antioxidants that may lower cancer risk.
2. Create a Smoke-Free Zone
Even if you're as likely to pop a cigarette in your mouth as you would week-old sushi, if you hang out with smokers, your health is at risk. Secondhand smoke is linked to lung cancer, and new research suggests that thirdhand smoke—a toxic brew of gases and tobacco residue that lingers on clothes and furniture—may be dangerous as well.
Make it easy Have a blanket rule that no one can light up in your home or car ever, says Norman H. Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. Not only does the smoke stink, but the chemicals in thirdhand smoke can't be vacuumed away. Throwing out furnishings is the only way to clear the air.
3. Drink Wisely
Sipping one too many margaritas on Friday night can leave you with more than a nasty hangover. Alcohol activates certain cell-signaling pathways that promote the progression and spread of breast and colon cancer, according to research from Rush University Medical Center.
Make it easy Women should limit themselves to one alcoholic drink—5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1½ ounces of liquor—or less per day, the American Cancer Society recommends. To help you stick to a healthy pour, swap Cougar Town–sized goblets for a set of petite wineglasses and use a shot glass to measure liquor when making cocktails.
4. Watch Weight Creep
"Around 20 percent of cancer deaths in women may be related to excess weight, which can increase both the risk of getting cancer and the chance of dying from it," says Colleen Doyle, R.D., director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. Being overweight causes the body to produce more estrogen, which may encourage the growth of certain cancer cells in some women.
Make it easy Track your weight over time. A study from Harvard University found that normal-weight adults gained an average of almost 17 pounds in 20 years. And it's the little things that add up: Over four years, people who scarfed an extra daily dose of fries gained 3.35 pounds; chips, 1.69 pounds; and sugary beverages, 1 pound, the Harvard study revealed. Snack smarter by trading these eats for healthier fare.
5. Move for 30 Minutes
Whether you walk, hula-hoop or dance to Lady Gaga, break a sweat every day. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate (brisk walking) or vigorous (running) aerobic exercise five or more days a week to reduce cancer risk. Cardio lowers estrogen, testosterone and insulin levels, all of which, when high, are risk factors for cancer, explains Anne McTiernan, M.D., director of the Prevention Center at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Make it easy Break up your workout: Jump rope for 5 minutes in the morning, take a 10-minute walk during lunch and go for a 15-minute bike ride after work. For inspiration, download the MapMyRun app to your smartphone; it uses your cell's built-in GPS to track how far you've gone and calculate calories burned.
6. Protect Your Skin
You know daily sunscreen is a must—each year, about 30,000 American women are diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer—but decoding labels to find the right one can be tricky. Thanks to new FDA regulations, however, those labels will soon be a lot less confusing. As of this summer, the agency will prohibit waterproof claims (most sunscreens degrade in water after about 40 minutes) and may nix SPF protection above 50—studies haven't proven that higher numbers are that much more effective, says Robin Schaffran, M.D., a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California.
Make it easy Check your favorite brand against the Environmental Working Group's database, which scores more than 1,700 products for safety and results. Block up with a minimum SPF of 30 every morning; if you're in direct sun, reapply at least 2 tablespoons every two hours.