What Science Says You Can Do to Help Reduce Your Cancer Risk

Millions of people are diagnosed with cancer each year, and while not all cases of cancer are preventable, between one third and one half of these cases could be prevented by changing some everyday behaviors. Knowing that your behavior can have a real impact on your health is helpful, but what specific things can you do? Here’s some advice backed by scientific evidence that may help prevent certain cancers:

  1. Don’t start or quit smoking. You knew this one was coming! Not only is smoking cigarettes the leading cause of preventable disease and death, but it is also associated with other unhealthy behaviors like drinking and not exercising. If you’re trying to quit and struggling, don’t give up. The average smoker will try to quit 8-10 times before succeeding, and strategies like having some social support, nicotine replacement (e.g., nicotine gum), and getting some counseling in quitting smoking can help you be more effective at quitting.
  1. Exercise. Whether it’s sweating it out in a spin class or running a few miles everyday, physical activity matters for your health. For example, people who are regularly physically active significantly reduce their risk for cancer including breast, colon, lung, endometrial, and ovarian cancers. If you’re having a hard time motivating yourself to get moving, try asking a friend to do it with you – a kind of “buddy system” has been shown to increase physical activity.
  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and try to lose some weight if you’re overweight/obese. You may be like Cookie Monster and prefer eating cookies to eating your fruit and vegetables, but the next time you reach for Oreos instead of blueberries, try to remember that eating fruits and vegetables can help protect against cancer. Obesity has also been linked to an increase risk for cancer. So finding a method to lose some weight and increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables can also be ways to help boost your health.
  1. Practice safe sex. Not protecting yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may have implications for your health, including your risk for cancer. For example, exposure to human papilloma virus (HPV) can increase your risk for cervical, anal, throat, vaginal, and penile cancers. Talk to your doctor about getting the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent contracting HPV to begin with. If you’re sexually active, talk to your partner about safe sex behavior, use condoms, and get yourself tested for STIs.
  1. Wear sunscreen, and don’t use tanning beds. While you may think the worst thing that comes out of a sun burn is a little pain and having to put on some sticky aloe vera lotion, getting sunburned can actually increase your risk of getting skin cancer. So this summer, make sure you regularly wear your sunscreen if you do go out in the sun, and don’t forget your big floppy hat at the beach. And before you think you can switch to indoor tanning salons as a “safer” option, time spent in tanning beds is also associated with an increased risk for melanoma. Channel your inner Emma Stone, not your inner Snooki.

*A good source for more information: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4626078/

About Mona Moieni

Mona is currently a PhD student in UCLA's psychology program, working primarily with Dr. Naomi Eisenberger. Her research focuses on understanding interactions between biological and social psychological processes, as well as how these relationships may be relevant to health and aging. When she's not working (and sometimes even when she is), Mona can be found reading the NY Times, re-watching TV shows and movies she loves, indulging her sweet tooth, and drinking a lot of Earl Grey tea.

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