It’s Cancer Prevention Month, the perfect time to learn more about how your choices affect your cancer risk. Here are some savvy ways to significantly cut your risk of cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 8 million deaths each year are due to cancer. And up to HALF of all these cases are preventable.
According to WHO the major factors that increase cancer risk are:
- tobacco use including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco
- being overweight or obese
- unhealthy diet with low fruit and vegetable intake
- lack of physical activity
- alcohol use
- sexually transmitted HPV-infection
- infection by hepatitis or other carcinogenic infections
- ionizing and non-ionizing radiation
- urban air pollution
- indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels.
The big takeaway from research on cancer prevention? Cancer is not just about smoking and genetics, but about healthy lifestyle choices — like eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and getting enough exercise.
Keeping your body at a healthy weight and moving it everyday are not just choices about looking good, but may influence long term health in numerous ways. And if you needed a kick in the pants to be more intentional about eating a healthy diet, maybe knowing you’re protecting yourself from cancer will do it.
Research from the American Institute for Cancer Research points to the most significant ways to cut your cancer risk:
- Keeping your weight at a healthy level. Apart from not smoking, avoiding obesity is the most important thing you can do to lower your cancer risk.
- Eating a healthy diet. Specifically, one that highlights a variety of plant foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans) limits alcohol and red meat, cuts out processed meat.
- Being physically active for 30 minutes a day. Being active helps the body regulate hormones that might otherwise spur the cancer process – and helps prevent obesity, which is itself a cause of many cancers.
So aside from avoiding tobacco, making a commitment to eating better and getting more exercise are some of the most powerful cancer prevention moves you can make. Even a little walking every day makes a difference. Sitting less does too.
Don’t forget to grab some non-toxic sunscreen if you’re going to be out in the sun longer than 15 minutes. Seeking shade and covering up (hat and sunglasses, too!) are also wise practices to prevent skin cancer. Do a skin self-exam often and see a dermatologist regularly to have them check for changes to moles. Here’s more on protecting yourself from UV rays from the American Cancer Society.
Cancer Prevention Diet
What you eat could play a major role in your risk of cancer. Processed meat made headlines a couple years ago when the World Health Organization added it to the list of known carcinogens. (Red meat is on their probable list.) A lot of processed food and its packaging also add compounds to your diet that aren’t actually food, and they may play a role in cancer. For instance, the Center for Science in the Public Interest notes that several food dyes still in common use are known carcinogens.
Though hydrogenated vegetable oils are being phased in the next couple years, eating lots of common vegetable oils (canola and corn, e.g.) may still up your cancer risk. In addition, cooking with these oils can also produce compounds thought to be carcinogenic.
Need another reason to opt for organic? Residues of glyphosate have been found in numerous packaged foods. Recently classified by WHO as a probable carcinogen, glyphosate is currently the most widely-used pesticide worldwide. Avoid it by eating organic as much as possible.
Because of the numerous ways processed foods can disrupt hormones and your microbiome, there are plenty of other good reasons to follow a whole foods diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Colorful produce will not only help keep your weight in check, but also contains powerful compounds called antioxidants that researchers believe can play an important role in cancer prevention.
Certain foods are thought to be especially helpful for cancer prevention, though research to date has not been conclusive:
- cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale, and cabbage,
- green tea
- vitamin C-rich foods (like red peppers and strawberries)
- vitamin D
Their super anti-inflammatory powers are another reason to eat plenty of fruits and veggies. And of course, they’re also delicious!
Related: Delicious Ways to Get More Veggies!
Because of our broken toxics control system, chemical companies are allowed to put all kinds of compounds into our household goods (or bads, as the case may be). Plenty of these appear on lists of known and probable carcinogens. What’s less clear at this point is how tiny daily doses of hundreds of these compounds might affect our short- and long-term health. It’s only sensible to avoid them where you can.
There are also cancer-causing compounds permeating the world we live in, though experts believe they are responsible for far fewer cancers than diet, obesity, and inactivity. Our water, food, personal care, and cleaners are just some of the ways we unwittingly expose ourselves to harmful chemicals every day.
Reducing your chemical exposure takes a little knowledge, but you can drastically cut your toxic load with a few savvy decisions. Even if cancer isn’t your primary concern, toxins in these items can affect our health in other ways as well, messing with our hormones, immune systems, and nervous systems.
Here are some key ways to cut your exposure to these compounds:
Want to know 5 more ways to get harmful substances out of your life? Grab my free guide, “9 Steps to a Less Toxic Home” by filling out the form below.
That was a lot of information! To recap,
Here are your top moves for cutting your cancer risk:
- Get regular exercise
- Eat a whole foods diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Wear sunscreen
- Get regular cancer screenings
- Avoid harmful chemicals in food, personal care, and household goods
Observe this Cancer Prevention Month with some sensible shifts to a healthier lifestyle! What will you do to better protect yourself from cancer? Share in the comments!
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Disclaimer: I’m a health enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
Photo credits: ruthieprasil, skeeze, eek the cat, Pexels, Pawel Pacholec
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