How can I reduce my risk of cancer?
By Judith K. Wolf, MD, a gynecologic oncology surgeon and Surgery Section Chief at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Question: How can I reduce my risk of cancer?
Answer: The truth is that many cancers are preventable. While we cannot prevent every type of cancer, healthy lifestyle choices can greatly reduce your risk of cancer. These choices are similar to what we learned in kindergarten! It’s following them every day that can sometimes be a challenge. Follow these simple steps for reducing your cancer risk.
Step One: Don’t smoke, or quit if you do smoke. Two-thirds of cancers are related to smoking. If you are a smoker, you will start reducing your risk the day you quit.
Step Two: Limit your sun exposure. Living in the Valley of the Sun, we are exposed to the sun’s harmful rays every day. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVB and UVA rays, rated SPF 30 or higher. Apply it generously to your skin 30 minutes before sun exposure, and every two hours thereafter.
Step Three: Don’t drink alcohol in excess. You have no doubt read studies that say alcohol in limited amounts can be healthy, and other studies that might contradict this. The best policy is to drink in moderation to reduce risk of cancer and other health problems.
Step Four: Maintain a healthy weight. Eat more fruits and vegetables, at least five to eight servings a day, and eat less processed foods. Exercise is also key to a healthy weight. Exercising just three to four times a week for at least 30 minutes can help you maintain your weight and improve your health.
Step Five: Be sure to see your doctor regularly and get the appropriate health screenings for your age and risk factors. You can follow these accepted recommendations but always in consultation with your physician:
- Schedule your first colonoscopy at age 50
- Men should begin PSA testing for prostate cancer at age 60
- Women should start mammograms at age 40 or 50 depending on their risk factors.
- Women should begin pap tests for cervical cancer at age 21.
- Here in Arizona, annual skin checks for sun damage are also recommended.
Cancer risk prevention is all about healthy lifestyles. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but living a healthy life can greatly reduce your risk for cancer and other lifestyle related diseases. And if you should be diagnosed with cancer, these practices will help you better manage your treatment and recovery.