Cancer is the number 2 killer in America, right behind heart disease. Guess what? Many cancers are preventable. Here are the top cancer risk factors and some strategies that can help prevent the “Big C.”
Cancer risk factors break down into those you can’t change and those over which you can exert influence or change completely. Age, for example, is a cancer risk factor – the longer you live the higher your odds of developing some kind of cancer. Genetic heritage is another – but you can’t choose your ancestors. However, if you know there’s a strong family history of breast cancer or heart disease runs in your family, you can be proactive about getting screened or making sure you have a healthy diet and regular exercise. Whether you drink or smoke is entirely under your control.
Most cancers are diagnosed in people who are between the ages of 65 and 74. A few, like leukemia, tend to occur in people under age 20. You can’t stop aging, but living healthy – diet, exercise, stress management and proper sleep – can help ward off many negative effects of aging.
If you drink, your risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, live and beast cancer goes up. Either don’t drink at all or limit yourself to two drinks a day for men and one for women.
Inflammation is a normal part of the healing process, but chronic inflammation occurs when the body keeps releasing chemicals that damage DNA. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a good example. While you can’t control the development of IBD, proper medical management can help reduce the risk of cancer.
Your diet may have a big influence on your cancer risk. Avoid junk food, and load up on cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale). Minimize char-broiled meats. Choose whole foods and cook yourself rather than eating processed foods.
The hormones used in menopause treatment may increase your risk of cancer. Have a discussion with your doctor before deciding to take hormones. Men who use anabolic steroid hormone to gain muscle mass may have an increased risk of liver cancer; best to avoid these hormones.
Some virus infections can increase your risk of cancer; most of these are spread by contact with blood or other body fluids. Protect yourself during sex by using a condom. Don’t share needles. Vaccinations are available for some viruses, like hepatitis B and C, which can increase the risk of liver cancer.
Obesity (which means have a body mass index of 30.0 or more) may increase your risk of breast cancer (post-menopausal women) and cancers of the colon, esophagus, endometrium (lining of the uterus), kidney, gallbladder, pancreas and rectum. You don’t have to be rail-thin, but try to maintain your weight at a healthy level.
Radiation from sunlight increases the risk of the skin cancer melanoma. The kind of radiation used in medical imaging also increases cancer risk and radon – a radioactive gas given off by some kinds of soil – increases your risk of lung cancer. Limit your exposure to sunlight, don’t use tanning beds or lights, and have medical imaging studies only when absolutely necessary. You can also have your house tested for radon.
In a word: Don’t! Besides, it causes wrinkles.
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