#1: Be sun smart.
Cancer is an incredibly complex disease. It involves a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. While there’s no "silver bullet" to prevent cancer, you can make certain lifestyle changes to lower cancer risk.
First of all, it helps to understand how cancer occurs. Cancer is essentially when cells grow out of control. When something damages the DNA of a cell, this is called a mutation. Gene mutations can be acquired (such as from UV rays or smoking), or they can be inherited (passed to a fetus from the parents).
The most important thing to understand about your cancer risk is that you do have some control over your risk factors. In fact, acquired gene mutations cause the majority of cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. That means you can feel empowered to reduce your risk of all types of cancers by making lifestyle changes to prevent some gene mutations.
Lifestyle Changes That Can Help
You can’t control all cancer-causing environmental factors. For example, you can’t wave your hand and eliminate pollution in your neighborhood, and you may not be able to avoid exposure to certain chemicals or other carcinogens at your place of work. Still, certain lifestyle changes can lower your cancer risk, such as:
1. Be safe in the sun
UV rays can cause gene mutations in skin cells. Studies show that just one bad sunburn during adolescence may double someone’s risk of melanoma, according to American Academy of Dermatology.
To protect your skin and lower your risk of skin cancer, dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen, avoiding tanning, seeking shade, and wearing hats and other protective clothing. Learn more here about tips to prevent skin cancer.
2. Eat a nutritious + balanced diet
There’s no diet that is a bulletproof defense against cancer. However, decades of research suggest the dietary habits that lower cancer risk the best include:
- Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- Avoiding or limiting processed meats
- Including high-fiber beans
- Choosing whole grains instead of refined grains
- Limiting red meats
- Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages
- Serving yourself healthy portions
3. Limit alcohol
Excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for several types of cancers. This includes cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast. That’s because the body forms a carcinogen called acetaldehyde while metabolizing alcohol. This toxin damages cell DNA, and cells may grow into tumors.
In general, women should drink no more than one drink per day, and men should drink no more than two a day.
4. Find + maintain a healthy weight
Extra weight is often linked to chronic inflammation, hormone imbalances, and insulin resistance—all of which may increase the risk of certain cancer types.
There’s some controversy about the link between weight and cancer. It’s hard to know if cancer risk is higher due to the weight itself, or because of the lifestyle habits that contribute to weight gain. That’s why it’s important to make healthy lifestyle choices regardless of your body size and shape.
5. Get on your feet
Regular exercise is linked to lower rates of cancer. Physical activity has several beneficial and cancer-preventing effects, such as:
- Helping to manage weight
- Balancing hormones
- Lowering inflammation
- Managing insulin levels
In other words, exercise goes way beyond weight loss. (Here are other benefits of exercise.)
6. Ditch the tobacco
This one probably doesn’t come as a surprise. At this point, everyone knows the cancer-causing properties of smoking.
However, the risks don’t stop with cigarettes. Other carcinogenic tobacco products include chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes, and even hookah. Tobacco products like these cause about 90 percent of all lung cancer cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Looking for more cancer-prevention tips?
- 3 weird things about acetaldehyde. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018. (Accessed on August 25, 2020)
- Diet and physical activity: what’s the cancer connection? Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on August 25, 2020)
- Family cancer syndromes. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on August 25, 2020)
- Obesity and cancer. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. (Accessed on August 25, 2020)
- Physical activity and cancer. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. (Accessed on August 25, 2020)
- Skin cancer. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on August 25, 2020)
- Sunscreen FAQs. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on August 25, 2020)
- Tobacco and cancer. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on August 25, 2020)