3 Changes You Can Make Today to Lower Your Cancer Risk
In June 2020, the American Cancer Society released new guidelines for how, in addition to not smoking, changes in your diet and physical activity can significantly lower your risk for cancer. Michelle Shen, MD, Breast Surgeon—Virtua Breast Care explores this with us more in-depth.
The guidelines note that at least 18 percent of all cancer cases in the U.S. are related to a combination of these controllable lifestyle factors:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating healthy, nutritious food
- Staying physically active
- Abstaining from drinking alcohol or drinking less
While making a few lifestyle changes seems simple enough, it’s not. It takes consistent work to make changes, and that’s hard. However, if you break up these changes into smaller goals, it makes lowering your cancer risk, and living a healthier life, easier to achieve.
Maintaining a healthy weight is tied directly to eating healthy, nutritious foods and staying active. This is important because being overweight or obese is linked to an increased risk for a number of different cancers including breast, colon and rectal, gynecologic, gastrointestinal, and others.
The connection between weight and cancer risk is actively studied and complex, but researchers think it’s tied to hormones like estrogen and insulin, as well as the immune system, inflammation, and even how you carry fat on your body.
What’s most important is taking steps to eat healthier foods, stay active, and reduce your alcohol intake. Here are some simple things you can do today to start reducing your cancer risk.
Eat healthy, nutritious foods
Some key factors driving weight gain in the U.S. are sugar-sweetened drinks and the abundant availability of, and desire for, fast or processed foods that are high in fat and sugar. To combat this, we advise our patients to start small and make healthier choices every day:
- Eat the rainbow: choose fruits and veggies from each color group like red peppers, oranges, yellow squash, leafy greens, blueberries, and eggplant.
- Make half your grains whole grains: choose whole-grain breads and pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal.
- Limit or avoid eating red meat and processed meats: reduce beef, pork, and sausage in your diet, and replace them with lean poultry or fish. Or, take a more plant-based approach, replacing meats with beans, jackfruit, tofu, tempeh, or seitan.
- Replace sugar-sweetened beverages: drink water or water with fresh fruit, flavored seltzer, or unsweetened tea.
- Leave room in your daily diet for a small indulgence: if chocolate is your vice, savor a piece of dark chocolate after dinner. If you’re a salty snacker, treat yourself to a pre-portioned bag of popcorn or pretzels.
- Get help if you need it: a registered dietitian can help you develop a healthy eating plan that works for you and your lifestyle, and that includes your favorite foods.
Get or stay physically active
Along with eating healthy foods, physical activity helps you lower the risks that come with being overweight or obese. The overall goal is to sit less and move more. If you haven’t exercised at all, you should check with your doctor before jumping into a more vigorous exercise program.
The easiest of all activities is walking—just lace up your sneakers and take the first step. Setting small, achievable goals helps—maybe you can set a goal to walk to the end of the block and back, and then add another block on your next walk.
The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, choosing an activity that works for you. This includes:
- Exercise: walking, dancing, biking, yoga
- Sports: golf, softball, baseball, doubles tennis
- Around the house: mowing the lawn, yard work
You also can engage in 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activities, including:
- Exercise: jogging/running, aerobics, weight training, kickboxing, swimming
- Sports: soccer, basketball, racquetball, singles tennis
- Around the house: digging, masonry, carpentry
Abstain from drinking alcohol or drink less
There’s a link between alcohol consumption and cancer, as it increases your risk for cancers of the mouth, throat, breast, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum. In addition, it adds empty calories to your diet that can lead to weight gain.
The American Cancer Society recommends NOT drinking alcohol. However, if you do drink alcohol, it’s best to do it in moderation. That means no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
A “drink” is defined as:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1 ½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (vodka, rum, bourbon, tequila)
Your cancer risk is linked to the amount of alcohol you drink, not the type. Therefore, it’s not advised to drink larger amounts of alcohol on fewer days.
And, one more thing
Coupled with these recommendations, cancer screenings increase the chance of detecting certain cancers early, when they might be easier to treat. Learn what screening tests the American Cancer Society recommends, when you should have them, and what’s covered under some types of insurance.
Your doctor is your best resource for helping you make the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce your cancer risk.
Call 888-847-8823 to make an appointment today. With comprehensive precautions in place, it's safe to get the care and screenings you need.