Week 9: How to reduce the risk for cancer

Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at various aspects of cancer: its causes, treatments and complications.

This week, we turn our attention to ways of cutting your risk. Yes, the risk for more than 30% of cancers related to lifestyle can be reduced considerably.

Risk reduction

There’s no guaranteed way of avoiding cancer. However, research has shown that there are several things you can do to greatly reduce your risk.

These include:

Smoking cessation. Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of cancer and many other diseases.

• Follow a balanced diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. This will also help to keep your weight in check. (We’ll discuss diet in more detail in the final newsletter in this series.)

Get regular exercise. If you don’t exercise much at the moment, start gradually and build up until you are averaging at least half an hour of exercise, most days.

Watch your weight. Obese or overweight people may have increased cancer risks. Consult with a doctor or nutritionist to find your ideal weight, and work to attain that through diet and exercise.

• Don’t drink alcohol in excess. One drink a day for women and two a day for men are the generally accepted limits. You may choose not to drink at all. Moderation will also help you to control your weight.

• Don’t start smoking, and quit as soon as possible if you already have a tobacco habit. Smoking is strongly linked to lung cancer and quite a few other types of cancer, too.

• Avoid excessive or extended exposure to UV rays, whether sunburn or tanning. Stay in the shade and wear protective clothing, hats, high-factor sunscreen and sunglasses. Avoid tanning beds. Sunbed use poses a risk of skin cancer and young people who get burnt from exposure to UV rays will have greater chances of developing melanoma.

• Take all the recommended cancer screening tests. Your doctor will be able to tell you which tests are advisable, depending on your age and risk profile.

• Avoid workplaces that are contaminated with toxic chemicals or radiation, and avoid coming into contact with substances like benzene, asbestos and second-hand smoke.

• Keep up to date with vaccinations. Some viruses are associated with particular cancers. For example, hepatitis B increases the risk of liver cancer, and human papillomavirus is linked to cervical and other cancers. Are there particular viruses you should think of getting immunised against? Discuss with your doctor.

Habits can be hard to break, and you can never reduce your risk to zero. However, if you follow these broad guidelines, at least you’ll give yourself the best possible odds against cancer – and your general health will improve, too.

Next week, in our final newsletter in this series, we’ll look at palliative and hospice care. 

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