8 simple things you can do to cut your cancer risk

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A healthy lifestyle and a thorough medical examination every year are two of the best ways to combat serious illness, especially cancer.

Regular screenings and self-examinations increase your chances of treatment and recovery, and improve your overall prognosis.

The main types of cancer for which women should get checked out regularly are breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer and skin cancer.

There are eight simple things you can do to cut your cancer risk drastically. Also take note of the check-ups needed during every decade of your life.

8 ways to cut your cancer risk

1. Don’t smoke.
2. Limit your alcohol consumption.
3. Exercise regularly and choose to be active.
4. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats.
5. Maintain a healthy weight for your height.
6. Protect your skin from the sun all year long and avoid excess sun.
7. Protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections.
8. Get regular screenings.

What to do?

The risk of contracting cancer varies from person to person but there are broad guidelines of what to do when in terms of screening for the disease. Early detection is key, so don’t delay. Dr Lee-Ann Jones, Clinical Executive of the Independent Clinical Oncology Network (ICON), gives the following guidelines:

20s
Unless there is a family history of cancer, or a medical or physical condition that is causing concern, regular cancer screenings are not required at this time.

- Breast cancer: Cultivate the habit of monthly self-examination.
- Cervical cancer: From age 21-29, or from the time of becoming sexually active, latest international recommendations are to have a Pap smear every three years.

30s
- Breast cancer: Cultivate the habit of monthly self-examination and discuss your risk of breast cancer with your doctor.
- Cervical cancer: Pap smear every three years, according to the latest international recommendations.
- Skin cancer: If you have a history of sunburn or there are many moles on your body, have a full body skin examination with a dermatologist every two years. Ask your doctor to show you how to do a thorough self-examination. Examine your skin once a month and notify your doctor immediately if you notice a mole change shape, size or colour.

40s
- Have a thorough annual medical examination.
- Breast cancer: Discuss your risk of breast cancer with your doctor. Monthly self-examination. Mammogram every 1-2 years.
- Cervical cancer: Pap smear every three years, according to the latest international recommendations.
- Colorectal Cancer: Annual tests on faeces for hidden (occult) blood. Colonoscopy every 5-10 years if you have a family history of colorectal cancer.
- Skin cancer: If you have a history of sunburn or there are many moles on your body, have a full body-skin examination with a dermatologist every two years. Ask your doctor to show you how to do a thorough self-examination. Examine your skin once a month and notify your doctor immediately if you notice a mole change shape, size or colour.

50s
- Breast cancer: Monthly self-examination. Mammogram every 1-2 years.
- Cervical cancer: Pap smear every three years, according to the latest international recommendations. You don’t have to be screened if you’ve had a full hysterectomy.
- Endometrial cancer: Endometrium (internal wall of the uterus) biopsy during menopause if recommended by your gynaecologist, or if you experience any of these risk factors: obesity, abnormal vaginal bleeding or oestrogen treatment (female hormones).
- Colorectal cancer: Annual tests on faeces for hidden (occult) blood.  Colonoscopy every 5-10 years to detect polyps.
- Lung cancer: Annual screening with low-dose CT scan from age 55-74 years, if you have a history of smoking, or if you have stopped smoking in the last 15 years.
- Skin cancer: If you have a history of sunburn or there are many moles on your body, have a full body-skin examination with a dermatologist every two years. Ask your doctor to show you how to do a thorough self-examination. Examine your skin once a month and notify your doctor immediately if you notice a mole change shape, size or colour.

60s
- Breast cancer: Monthly self-examination. Mammogram every 1-2 years.
- Cervical cancer: Pap smear every three years until age 65, provided your doctor is satisfied that you have had adequate negative prior screening and are not at increased risk. You don’t have to be screened if you’ve had a full hysterectomy.
- Endometrial cancer: Endometrium (internal wall of the uterus) biopsy during menopause if you experience any of these risk factors or as suggested by the gynaecologist: obesity, abnormal vaginal bleeding or estrogen treatment (female hormones).
- Colorectal cancer: Annual tests on faeces for hidden (occult) blood. If you have never been screened for colorectal cancer until now, a one-time screening with colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy is recommended. Colonoscopy every 5-10 years to detect and remove polyps. More regularly if polyps are found.
- Lung cancer: Annual screening with low-dose CT scan from age 55-74 years, if you have a history of smoking, or if you have stopped smoking in the last 15 years.
- Skin cancer: If you have a history of sunburn or there are many moles on your body, have a full body-skin examination with a dermatologist every two years. Ask your doctor to show you how to do a thorough self-examination. Examine your skin once a month and notify your doctor immediately if you notice a mole change shape, size or colour.

70s
- Breast cancer: Mammogram every 1-2 years as long as you have a life expectancy of at least 10 years. International guidelines say mammograms can be discontinued in this age group, but discuss your risk of breast cancer with your doctor.
- Cervical cancer: If you have not been screened regularly throughout your life, you should continue Pap smears every three years until age 70-75 years.
- Endometrial cancer: Endometrium (internal wall of the uterus) biopsy during menopause if you experience any of these risk factors or as suggested by the gynaecologist: obesity, abnormal vaginal bleeding or estrogen treatment (female hormones).
- Colorectal cancer: Annual tests on faeces for hidden (occult) blood. If you have never been screened for colorectal cancer until now, a one-time screening with colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy is recommended. Colonoscopy every 5-10 years to detect and remove polyps. More regularly if polyps are found.
- Lung cancer: Annual screening with low-dose CT scan from age 55-74 years, if you have a history of smoking, or if you have stopped smoking in the last 15 years.
- Skin cancer: If you have a history of sunburn or there are many moles on your body, have a full body-skin examination with a dermatologist every two years. Ask your doctor to show you how to do a thorough self-examination. Examine your skin once a month and notify your doctor immediately if you notice a mole change shape, size or colour.

Has your life been touched by cancer? Tell your story and inspire others. #StrongerTogether   

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