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How to lower your risk for cancer

Posted by Medavie Blue Cross on February 4, 2022

“You have cancer”: three words that 200,000 Canadians will hear this year.

If you’re concerned about cancer, you’ll be comforted to know that simple lifestyle choices can make a difference. In fact, we can help prevent at least one third of common cancers by making gradual changes to our diets and daily routines.

Here are some small but important steps you can take to lower your risk for cancer — and get on the path to better health and a longer life.

Cancer prevention

Eat well

Eat more fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colours to provide different nutrients.

  • Many foods from plant sources such as whole grains and beans also contribute to a well-balanced diet.
  • Eat lots of fibre, less red meat and avoid processed meats. Diets that are high in red meat or processed meats increase your risk for colorectal cancer while a high-fibre diet can protect against colorectal cancer.
  • You can lower your risk of stomach cancer by limiting the amount of sugar and salt you consume. Choose foods that are low in salt (or sodium) and added sugars; read labels carefully and drink water instead of soft drinks and juices.

Maintain a healthy weight

A healthy body weight to lower the risk of various types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney. Eat lighter and leaner by choosing fewer high-calorie foods, especially those that contain refined sugars and animal fat.

Move more, sit less

Physical activity counts when it comes to cancer prevention.

  • Set a goal of doing 30 minutes of moderate activity each day. Take a brisk walk. Rake the leaves. Shovel the snow.
  • Do you have a sedentary job? Set an alarm to take hourly breaks, even if it’s only to stand up and stretch.
  • At noon hour, replace 30 minutes of screen time with a 30-minute walk or a half hour of chair yoga.

Even these modest activities get your heart pumping, lower your stress and strengthen your muscles, and can reduce your risk of cancer.

Be sun safe

Skin cancer is one of the most common and preventable types of cancer. The best way to protect yourself is to reduce your exposure to the sun or other sources of UV rays:

  • Avoid the midday sun when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps — they’re just as damaging to the skin as natural sunlight.
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even when it’s cloudy, and apply generously.
  • Wear sunglasses, broad-brimmed hats and tightly woven, loose fitting clothing to cover up as much skin as possible.

Be smoke free

Medical experts highly recommend we don’t smoke and drink less to prevent cancer. Smoking has been linked to various types of cancer, including cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, larynx, pancreas, bladder, cervix and kidney, while chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the oral cavity and pancreas.

Even if you don't use tobacco, exposure to second-hand smoke can still raise your risk of lung cancer. Live a smoke-free lifestyle and limit your consumption of alcohol to reduce your cancer risk.

Cancer detection

Early cancer detection can lead to a healthy outcome. You can take charge of your health by knowing signs and symptoms of cancers to watch for and when to be screened for certain cancers to make decisions that are best for you:

  • Screening tests like mammograms, an x-ray for breast cancer, can increase your chances of discovering cancer early — when treatment is most likely to be successful. Women who are 50 to 74 years of age are advised to have a mammogram every two years.
  • A stool test can find colorectal cancer, which is second most common cause of cancer death in Canada, yet 90% treatable when caught early. If you are 50 to 74 and not at high risk for colorectal cancer, it is recommended you have a stool test every two years.
  • Having a Pap test for cervical cancer screening is also recommended every two years after you turn 21.

These are guidelines to follow only, not guarantees you won’t get or beat cancer. However, the better informed you are the healthier you will be — if you know the signs for cancer, and when to take a screening test, you can help stop cancer in its tracks.

Take the next step

Learn more about cancer prevention and detection from the Canadian Cancer Society and World Cancer Day, which on February 4 launched a three-year campaign to “close the care gap” on cancer by uniting voices for change and mobilizing action.

Sources: Canadian Cancer Society, World Cancer Day, Mayo Clinic

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