These days, it seems like everything causes cancer—an observation that isn’t far from the truth.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of new cancer cases per year is expected to rise to 23.6 million by 2030. Such scary numbers beg the question: What steps can be taken to minimize your risk?
“There are likely multiple reasons for the rise in cancer rates, with an aging population being the most likely,” says Dr. Dan Vongtama, MD, Radiation Oncologist at St. Teresa Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It’s interesting because it’s partly good news: Because of all the advances in modern day medicine, we’re living longer, which puts us more at risk.”
A second reason? Obesity. “Being overweight is clearly linked to a risk of cancer,” says Dr. Vongtama. “We don’t fully understand why yet, but it could be related to the fact that, when one is obese, the immune system is impaired and there is chronic inflammation.” An increase in hormones due to excess fatty tissues also contributes to the risk.
While we can’t stop ourselves from aging, managing your weight is a reasonable step you can take in reducing your risk of cancer. With a healthy diet and controlled weight, your hormone levels will be better regulated. Add at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (meaning a brisk walk in which it would be hard to hold a conversation) to your weekly routine, and you’ll decrease your risk of several different types of cancers, including the most common type, breast cancer.
“There’s also a link between breast cancer and alcohol intake,” says Dr. Vongtama. “To avoid increasing your risk, the recommendation is no more than one alcoholic drink per day.”
Yet another carcinogenic is on the rise, even more prevalent than alcohol—are you sitting down?
“We know that the amount of time spent sitting is related to some types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, and lung cancer,” explains Dr. Vongtama. “It doesn’t seem to be reversed by increasing your physical activity, either.”
That’s right: an hour and a half of exercise after work won’t reverse the damage done by sitting in a chair for eight hours (looking at you, nine-to-fivers). That’s why it’s recommended that you periodically get up and stretch, take short walks, or even stand at your desk while you work.
To make a long story short, Dr. Vongtama says: Stop smoking. Cut back on drinking. Be active. Increase whole grains, decrease red and processed meat consumption. Always wear sun protection. And, to protect against a myriad of cancers, look after your sexual health with regular pap smears and get vaccinated against cancer-causing viruses HPV and Hepatitis B.
While there is no guarantee that taking any one precaution can protect you against cancer, you can minimize your risk of cancer by incorporating a variety of healthy habits into your lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about any health concerns you may have, and most importantly, don’t let the fear of cancer keep you from living your best life!
For More Information:
St. Teresa Comprehensive Cancer Center
4722 Quail Lakes Dr., Suite B, Stockton