When it comes to cancer, it may seem like it comes from a completely random stroke of bad luck. And while the cause of some instances of cancer in healthy children or adults is unknown, there are several known risk factors for developing cancer later on. Understanding these risk factors can help potentially save your life.
The best way to assess your risk for developing cancer and to catch cancer early is to get screened. Depending on your age, you will want to be screened for certain cancers. Starting at age 45, women should receive yearly mammograms to screen for breast cancer. Once you are 55, these screenings can be reduced to every other year. Women should also receive regular Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer. If you have an average risk for colon cancer, as most people do, you should begin getting screened for it at age 45. All of these regular screenings can help catch cancer early, get the treatment you need, and save your life.
Avoid Tobacco Products
Smoking tobacco products during your life puts you at risk for a number of cancers, including of the mouth, lung, and throat. Cigarette smoking is estimated to be the cause of 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States. The longer amount of time you smoke, and the more cigarettes you smoke, the more your risk increases. However, even one cigarette or the occasional cigarette can increase your chances of developing cancer. Even if you do not smoke, being around people who smoke can also increase your risk. Secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer because you are still breathing in smoke that contains toxins and carcinogens.
Eat a Healthy Diet
What you eat can play an important role in preventing cancer. The main reason for this is that maintaining a healthy diet helps you maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese has been shown to be a risk factor for a number of cancers, including kidney, liver, ovarian, stomach, thyroid, and colon, among others. Try to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains into your diet. Consider reducing the amount of red meat and fried food you consume. It has been found that eating processed meats can increase your risk of some cancers. Try not to indulge too much in sweets like candy or chocolate, and try to reduce your salt intake as much as possible.
Avoid Unprotected Sun Exposure
Spending too much time in sunlight can do more than just cause wrinkles and freckles. Over time, too much sun exposure can lead you to be more at risk for developing skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, and cases continue to rise. To prevent this, limit your time in the sun daily. If you have to work outside, take protective measures like wearing a hat, or staying in the shade when possible. Canopies protect against heat stroke while operating a tractor. You can also wear special UV protective clothing. Always wear sunscreen when you go outside. Your sunscreen should have a sun protection rating, or SPF, of at least 30. UV protective sunglasses protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes from the sun. You should also avoid tanning beds and sun lamps which can be just as dangerous as natural sunlight.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Limiting the amount of alcohol you consume can also protect you from getting cancer. There is substantial evidence that alcohol consumption can cause mouth, throat, breast, and liver cancer. All types of alcoholic drinks cause the same amount of risk. Unfortunately, there is no known threshold for which drinking less than a certain amount of alcohol does not put you at risk. It is known, however, that the more you drink, the more you increase your risk. If you do drink, it is recommended you do it in moderation, which generally means one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. Try replacing alcohol with virgin versions of some of your favorite drinks to still enjoy the flavor and experience.
Become More Physically Active
Staying active is an important way to reduce your cancer risk. Physical activity is linked to lower blood pressure, better cardiovascular health, stronger muscles and bones, and reduced weight. Physical activity has been linked to helping to prevent certain cancers, including colon, breast, kidney, liver, and a blood cancer called myeloma. Even moderate physical activity like walking can be good for you. Find a physical activity you enjoy doing, like biking, hiking, or swimming, so you will enjoy making it part of your daily routine. Thirty minutes a day of physical activity is generally recommended, but check with your doctor if you have any concerns.
Another sometimes overlooked way to prevent cancer is by getting vaccinated. The reason for this is that certain viral infections can increase your risk factor for cancer. Hepatitis B is a liver infection that is caused by a virus, and contracting Hepatitis B puts you at greater risk of developing liver cancer. You are at a higher risk of Hepatitis B if you are exposed to infected fluids or blood such as in a healthcare setting, through intravenous drug use, or sexual activity. Sharing needles with other people for drug use is extremely risky. If you are at high risk, you should receive the Hepatitis B vaccine. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer in women. The HPV vaccine is typically recommended for boys and girls 12 years of age and up. Talk with your doctor about whether this vaccine is right for you.
These are just a handful of things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cancer later on in your life. See your doctor regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle to keep your body in top shape. This will not only help you prevent cancer, but also help you live a long and healthy life too.
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