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5 Ways to Reduce Your Cancer Risk


When it comes to cancer, as with many other diseases, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. 

There are many risk factors for cancer that may be beyond your control — including your age, genetic makeup, family history and even environmental factors to which you may have been exposed. But there are many other factors that are within your realm of control.

Here are five ways you can reduce your risk for developing cancer:

1. Avoid Tobacco
Many medical providers consider not using tobacco the single best thing you can do for your health. Tobacco use has been linked to a host of cancers — including bladder, cervical, colorectal, esophageal, gastric, kidney, mouth, pancreatic and more. And there is no “safe” metric for tobacco use — smoking socially or having an occasional dip still raises your risk. And quitting tobacco, regardless of what age an individual quits, has been shown to extend the individual’s life expectancy. If you currently use tobacco and need help quitting, the free Freshstart tobacco cessation program from Tanner’s Get Healthy, Live Well can help. You can find upcoming classes on the Classes and Events calendar at tanner.org or call 770.214.CARE.

2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
It’s not just that being obese or overweight increases your risk for certain cancers, it’s that the behaviors that keep you at a healthy weight have been shown to also lower the risk for cancer. Along with helping you stay at a healthy weight, regular physical activity can reduce the risk of breast, colorectal, endometrium and prostate cancers. A 2016 study from the American Institute for Cancer Research, which surveyed data from 1.4 million study participants in the United States and Europe, found that exercise can reduce the risk of up to 13 different kinds of cancer. And the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that a healthy diet can play a role in reducing the risk of cancers to the colon, liver, gallbladder, thyroid, ovaries, rectum and more. You can read more about the ways nutrition can reduce your risk for cancer in Tanner’s Health Library on tanner.org.

3. Use Alcohol in Moderation
Research has demonstrated several ways that frequent alcohol consumption increases the risk for cancer. For one, it impacts the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, folate and others. Also, the way the body metabolizes, or breaks down, the alcohol you consume produces acetaldehyde — a toxic substance that can increase the risk for cancer. Among women, overconsumption of alcohol can lead to increased levels of estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer risk.

4. Get Regular Cancer Screenings
To be clear, a cancer screening is not itself a preventative measure — it’s a diagnostic approach, but one that allows medical providers to find cancer at its very earliest stages when treatment can be most effective. And in some instances, the screening itself can allow for preventive care, such as the removal of precancerous polyps during a colonoscopy. Regularly making appointments with a primary care provider can also help you get feedback on the latest clinically effective ways to reduce cancer risk. Don’t be passive about your cancer risk — ask you primary care provider what more you can do and if you’re due for a screening. Make sure he or she is aware of the risk factors beyond your control, including your family history of certain cancers.

5. Protect Yourself from Infection
Some infections can increase your risk for certain cancers. The human papillomavirus, or HPV, can lead to cervical cancers, as well as cancers of the head and neck. Hepatitis B infections drive up the risk for liver cancer. The good news is, immunizations are available that can help prevent both these infections. Avoiding risky behaviors that can lead to infections is important, too — practicing safe sex can reduce your risk for HPV and HIV (HIV increases the risk for colorectal cancer, lung cancer and liver cancer), and sharing needles can increase the risk for contracting HIV or hepatitis. 

A wealth of reliable, medically reviewed cancer-related information is available in the free online Health Library at tanner.org. To learn more about the cancer treatment options available through Tanner Health System, visit TannerCancerCare.org

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