Can lifestyle changes lower your cancer risk?

September 27, 2016 in Preventive Care  •  By Miles Varn
lifestyle changes to lower cancer risk

A number of recent studies suggest a possible link between the lifestyle choices you make and your cancer risk. While these choices don’t appear to affect your risk for all types of cancer, they may have a significant impact on your risk of developing and dying from several common cancers.

While the studies are observational, retrospective studies (the researchers reviewed data gathered by other studies) not randomized, prospective studies (studies designed to answer specific questions about the effectiveness and safety of a treatment or other type of intervention by comparing data from people who undergo the intervention with a group that does not undergo the intervention), they do suggest a potential link between several lifestyle habits and cancer risk.

Lifestyle changes that may lower your cancer risk

One study, which reviewed data from two large, long-term studies of health professionals, suggested that between 20 and 40% of U.S. cancer cases and 50% of cancer deaths could be avoided by making four healthy lifestyle choices:

  • Not smoking or having quit smoking five years ago
  • Limiting alcohol to one drink per day for women and two for men
  • Maintaining a body mass index of at least 18.5 but lower than 27.5
  • Taking part in 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week

Following these lifestyle choices was associated with a significantly lower risk of colon and rectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, and bladder cancer.

A second study found an association between getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a diet rich in whole grains and fruits and vegetables that limits processed and red meat and alcohol with a decrease in cancer risk. This study linked these behaviors with a reduced risk for breast, endometrial, and colon cancer.

There are also a number of other behaviors that may reduce your risk of developing cancer, including:

  • Protecting yourself from the sun and lowering your risk of skin cancer by regularly using sunscreen year-round, avoiding the sun’s strongest rays between 10 am and 4 pm, and wearing lightweight, protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses when you are out in the sun
  • Receiving immunizations for certain viral infections linked to cancer, such as the HPV vaccine to lower the risk of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women, penile cancer in men, and anal and oral cancers in both men and women. Talk with your doctor about whether you should receive a hepatitis B vaccine. This infection can increase your risk of liver cancer.
  • Getting the appropriate cancer screenings, such as mammograms and PAP smears for women, prostate cancer screening for men, and colonoscopies and skin cancer screenings for both women and men. Your doctor can tell you which screenings you need, when they should start, and how frequently they should be performed based on your personal health history, your current health issues, and your family history. The benefit of screening is that it can often detect cancer when it’s in the earlier stages when treatment may be more effective.