Many people think cancer is entirely genetic and cannot be avoided, but that's not true.
Healthy behaviors could prevent about half of cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.
Here are 10 lifestyle changes, all based on the latest research, that can improve the odds against cancer. The tips come from Dr. Anne McTiernan of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
- Don’t smoke or use any other tobacco products. If you’ve tried to quit before, don’t give up — eventually something will work.
- Get screened for cancer regularly (colon, breast, prostate, cervix and skin should be tested — ask your doctor for intervals and age at which to start). Finding cancer early can greatly increase your chance for a cure and reduce your risk of dying from the disease.
- Keep your alcohol consumption low. This means no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Keeping your alcohol intake to the minimum daily level doesn’t mean that you can “save up” all your drinks for a week and binge on Friday night with your weekly “allotment.”
- Protect your skin from the sun. Use sunscreen every time you go outdoors (preferably one with an SPF of 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB rays). Keep covered with a broad hat and sunglasses.
- Keep a physically active lifestyle. You don’t need to be an athlete to get the benefit of exercise. Activities such as brisk walking, biking, dancing or any exercise that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat will be beneficial.
- Keep your weight in the normal range for your height. That means keeping to a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or less. (You can calculate you BMI with online calculators). Try to stay within 5 to 10 pounds of what you weighed at age 18. - Avoid taking menopausal hormone therapy. If you need to take hormones, limit your use to less than five years.
- Consider taking medications, after consulting a doctor, for reducing cancer risk. There are several medications that have been tested and found effective for reducing risk for cancer.
- Avoid exposures to cancer-causing substances. Radiation exposures and some chemicals are known to cause cancer.
- Eat a cancer-risk-reducing diet. The role of diet in cancer is far from established, but research suggests that a plant-based diet is associated with reduced risks for several cancers, especially for colon cancer. Guidelines include: Keep your intake of red meat to no more than 4 ounces of red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) per day on average; avoid processed meats such as sausages and bologna; eat a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fruits every day, at least five servings; and minimize your intake of sugared drinks, juices, desserts and candies, refined breads and bagels, and chips.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.