It’s never too late to take a few simple steps to reduce your risk of cancer. Try marking National Cancer Prevention Month by adding the good – or dropping a few bad – behaviors you thought about at the start of the New Year.
“Yes, you can lower your risk of cancer by how you choose to live your life,” said Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., the director of City of Hope’s Division of Cancer Etiology.
“One of the easiest things you can do is to start exercising,” Bernstein said. “It’s never too late to start and it has a multitude of benefits.”
Regular exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer in women, as well as the risk of colon cancer in both men and women. In regard to breast cancer, the benefits of regular exercise apply to all women, no matter their weight or body mass.
According to the American Cancer Society, women who exercise at moderate intensity for a total of 2.5 hours per week, or at high intensity for over an hour per week, reap the most benefits. Something as fun and easy as a 30-minute walk five days a week – you can do it during your lunch hour – can help to reduce your cancer risk.
Don't forget to wear sunscreen while you’re out on that walk – it will help reduce the risk of skin cancer. And be sure to see a dermatologist for a regular mole check.
“Having your moles looked at for any changes in shape, size or color is critical, especially for Caucasians,” Bernstein said. “That’s one doctor’s appointment that can save your life.”
Smokers who quit reduce their risk of not only lung cancer (and cardiovascular disease) but of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and tongue. Smoking tobacco products also plays a role in bladder cancer.
“Quit smoking and, yes, you reduce your risk of those cancers,” she said.
If you’re a drinker, consider this: There is now a clear link between alcohol and an increased risk of breast cancer. The more you drink, the higher the risk. The good news is that cutting back also reduces your risk.
“If you have just a glass of wine a day, the risk increases but just slightly,” Bernstein said. “Drink more than that -- two or more drinks per day – and it becomes a more serious level of risk.”
Be sure to talk to your doctor about regular cancer screenings. Mammograms and colonoscopies are important, as is regular lung cancer screening for former and current smokers.
Best of all, many of the positive behaviors that can reduce your cancer risk have additional benefits.
“Regular exercise reduces the risk of depression, of osteoporosis in women, and of cardiovascular disease in both men and women,” she said. “A healthy lifestyle can make a big difference to your quality of life.”
In the case of cervical cancer, there is good news. Over the past 40 years, the mortality rate for cervical cancer patients has decreased by over 50 percent, thanks to the increased prevalence of the Pap test. The even better news is that in many cases, cervical cancer can be avoided altogether.