Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the abnormal growth of cells. Worldwide, cancer is the second leading cause of death. According to WHO, it has been responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Globally, about 1 in 6 deaths occur due to cancer.
Lifestyle and dietary modifications can help to prevent cancer in the vast majority of cases. In this article, we shall discuss 10 tips for cancer prevention.
In cancer, the cells of a particular organ begin to divide uncontrollably and can infiltrate and destroy the nearby body organs as well as spread to distant organs. It can affect any part of the body.
Cancer prevention and detection of cancer in early stages form the mainstay of reducing the cancer burden.
Although significant research has been carried out regarding the mechanisms by which cancer occurs, it is still unknown as to who will get this disease. However, few lifestyle and dietary factors have been linked to an increased incidence of cancer; modification of which can help to reduce the incidence significantly.
The following are some of the ways that can help with cancer prevention.
1. Maintain a Healthy Bodyweight
Being overweight or obese is an important risk factor for several cancers, like breast, colon, uterus, kidney, esophagus, and pancreatic cancer. Hence maintaining an ideal body weight can reduce the risk of these cancers. Ideal weight can be achieved by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet and helps in cancer prevention.
For overweight or obese individuals, the diet consumed should be such that it creates a calorie deficit which means that the number of calories consumed should be lesser than the number of calories burnt/spent.
2. Exercise Regularly and Be Physically Active
Regular exercise and a physically active lifestyle are known to reduce the risk of colon, breast, and uterine cancer. Exercise will help protect you even if you don’t lose weight.
A common misconception in society is that people who are not overweight or have an ideal weight for height don’t need to exercise. This is far from being true. In lean individuals, exercising regularly not only keeps their bones and muscles strong, but it also releases endorphins which produce a feel-good effect on the mind.
For obese or overweight individuals, exercise has a protective effect on various cancers even if they are unable to lose any weight.
Any type of exercise including brisk walking, gym exercises, yoga, aerobics, etc can be included in your daily schedule depending upon your preferences.
In addition to this, you also need to be physically active throughout the day. For this you need to introduce small changes in your lifestyle, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking for short distances instead of using your vehicle, not sitting for prolonged periods, etc.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet plays an important role in cancer prevention as many cancers are linked to wrong eating practices. A high-fat diet has been linked to colon, prostate, breast, and endometrial cancer. A low fiber diet is also related to an increased risk of colon cancer.
Hence, one should consume a balanced diet rich in whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables including green leafy vegetables, etc.
- Reduce the consumption of fast foods and other processed foods high in saturated fat content.
- Reduce the consumption of artificially sweetened drinks like cold drinks, packaged fruit juices, etc.
- Choose cereals and bread made from whole grains instead of refined products.
- Reduce the consumption of red meat ( like beef, pork, lamb, etc) and processed meat (like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, etc).
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
As a general thumb rule, eat more of what is produced ‘by’ the plants and not ‘in’ the plants (meaning industrial units).
4. Say No to Alcohol
Excessive alcohol intake may lead to liver cirrhosis which is a risk factor for liver cancer. Incidence of many other types of cancer like those of the breast, colon, mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, lung, kidney, etc increases with the amount of alcohol consumed and duration for which it has been consumed.
It is important to drink in moderation. This would mean having no more than two drinks a day if you are a male or one drink a day if you are a female. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1and a half ounces of 80-proof distilled spirit. These amounts are recommended for those who choose to not totally eliminate alcohol from their diet. However recent guidelines suggest that it is best not to drink alcohol at all for cancer prevention.
5. Avoid Smoking
Smoking increases the risk of various types of cancer such as cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, larynx, pancreas, kidney, urinary bladder, and cervix. Chewing tobacco causes cancer of the mouth and pancreas.
Passive smoking in which a person inhales the smoke involuntary from other people’s cigarettes or cigars also increases the risk of lung cancer.
Avoiding tobacco completely or quitting its usage is an essential part of cancer prevention. Besides medicines which help a person to cope with the withdrawal symptoms, psychological support is of utmost importance in helping a person to quit smoking.
6. Practice Safe Sex
Cancer is not contagious and can’t spread through close contact or through sex, kissing, touching, etc. However, certain types of cancers are caused by sexually transmitted viruses.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked with several genital cancers like those of cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, and anus. Besides, it is also known to cause cancers of the mouth, throat, head, and neck.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) can also spread through unprotected sex. It can cause chronic liver infections leading to liver cancer.
To prevent such cancers, one must practice safe sexual practices. Staying faithful to one’s partner, avoiding unprotected sex, and using contraceptive methods to prevent the transmission of infection are some of the ways to avoid such cancers.
7. For Mothers, Breastfeed Your Baby
A woman’s risk of breast cancer can be reduced significantly if she breastfeeds her baby. Breastfeeding is also associated with a lower risk of aggressive kinds of breast cancer like triple-negative breast cancer. In addition, breastfeeding also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by inhibiting ovulation.
Read more about Breastfeeding: Benefits, Problems, and Tips for Better Feeding
According to recommendations, a woman should exclusively breastfeed her baby for the initial 6 months. That means that the baby should receive only breast milk and no water, other liquids, or solids.
After six months, breastfeeding should be continued along with the gradual introduction of semi-solid and solid foods. Breast milk can be given to the baby for as long as 2 years or more.
Breastfeeding provides innumerable benefits for the child as well. It can help prevent the child from being overweight or obese during adulthood. As discussed above, obesity increases the risk of several cancers.
8. Protect Your Skin From Sunlight
Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers and also the most preventable one.
Exposure to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun is responsible for most skin cancers. Thus it is important to use adequate sun protection all through the year.
Avoid outdoor activities during the daytime between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., since the sun’s rays are the strongest during this time. Stay in the shade during daytime and protect yourself with sunglasses, loose-fitting clothes covering most of the body, and a broad-brimmed hat.
Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Sunscreen should be used even on cloudy days. Also, it may be reapplied every two hours or even more frequently.
Read more about Sunscreens – Types, Mechanism, and Protection
9. Get Yourself Regularly Screened For Cancers
Regular screening and self-examination for certain types of cancers can increase the chances of detecting cancer in an early stage when it is small and has not spread to nearby or distant organs. Screening becomes all the more important if there is a family history of cancer.
Diagnosing cancer in the early stages increases the chances of successful treatment. Many early-stage cancers are fully curable. With certain cancers, screening tests can even prevent cancer from developing in the first place since they are able to detect the disease in the pre-cancerous stage.
Read more about Staging of Breast Cancer
Read more about Metastasis or Metastatic disease
Read more about Breast Cancer Screening Test
Read more about Pap Smear- Indications, Method, and Significance
Various screening methods are available for different cancers such as cancer of the breast, cervix, skin, colon, lung, etc.
Pap screening for cervical cancer, mammography for breast cancer, colonoscopy for colon cancer, etc are some of the routinely performed screening tests. If there is a family history of breast cancer, a person can undergo genetic testing to detect BRCA gene mutations.
Read more about BRCA Gene Mutation and Testing
Every person should check their skin for moles that have become enlarged, or irregular or contain more than one color or have newly appeared.
10. Avoid Stress
While acute or short –term stress like the one experienced before exams or giving a speech does not cause long term or serious consequences; it is the long term stress that is detrimental to a person’s health.
Chronic or long term stress can have serious effects on physical and emotional health. Chronic stress affects our immune system. Lower immunity in turn makes a person vulnerable to a variety of infections and inflammations and the body has a reduced ability to fight off diseases like cancer.
Moreover, how one copes with or manages stress also contributes to the ill-effects of stress. Chronic stress is more likely to lead to smoking, drinking alcohol, reduced physical activity, and an unhealthy diet all of which are risk factors for cancer.
Hence it is important to manage long term stress. Regular meditation, yoga, music therapy, exercise are all known to reduce stress. Pursuing a hobby like gardening, playing a musical instrument, painting, or even playing with a pet can all contribute to calming the mind and warding off stress. You can even take the help of a professional to manage chronic stress.