10 ways to lower your risk of cancer

Each day, over 500 Canadians hear the words ‘you have cancer.’ Don’t let it be you.

The Canadian Cancer Society has compiled a list of 10 things you can do to lower your risk of being diagnosed with the disease.

By taking actions on some of these suggestions, you can have a significant impact on your health and lower your chances of developing cancer by about 50%.

1. Butt out

Beyond a doubt, if you smoke, the best thing you can do for your health is quit. An estimated 30 percent of all cancer deaths are due to smoking.  As well, each year, over 800 Canadians die because of second-hand smoke.

2. Eat your veggies and minimize your meat intake

Health Canada says adults and teens should be eating seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day and children, depending on their age, should be eating four to six servings. As a rule of thumb, half of what you eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks should be fruits or veggies. You read that right—half!  

The World Health Organization (WHO) also recently released their findings on processed and red meat. The WHO linked eating processed meats such as bacon and cold cuts to an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, and also said that beef, lamb and pork are "probably carcinogenic” (a substance capable of causing cancer). The Canadian Cancer Society advises you to avoid eating processed meats and consume red meat no more than three times per week.

3. Move more, sit less

Physical activity is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer and may also lower the risk of breast cancer. So you need to move more, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate (i.e., gets your heart pumping) activity daily. Also, most of us spend far too much time sitting. We commute to our desk jobs and remain virtually inert behind our computer for hours on end. Every hour, you should get up and move around.

4. Shed excess pounds

Having and maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the best things you can do to prevent cancer. People who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for various types of cancer. Research shows that fat tissue produces excess amounts of estrogen, high levels of which have been associated with the risk of breast, endometrial, and some other cancers. In addition, fat cells produce hormones that may stimulate or inhibit cell growth.

5. Become a virtual teetotaller

Alcohol is a known human carcinogen. Research indicates the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly on a regular basis—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. If you don’t currently drink, don’t start. If you do drink, set limits. Women shouldn’t have more than one drink per day and men shouldn’t have more than two drinks per day.

6. Be sun safe

It might be November, but applying sunscreen needs to remain a priority year round. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and one of the most preventable. Each year, over 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada, more than 5,000 of which are melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Protect yourself by staying in the shade, covering up and wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. You should also generously apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 and with broad-spectrum protection for both UVB and UVA rays.  Tanning beds are also to be avoided.  

7. Ask about cancer-preventing vaccines

Hepatitis B infection increases your risk of liver cancer. HPV infection can lead to cervical, penile, mouth, throat and other cancers. Cancer prevention vaccines are given to healthy people to prevent the development of specific cancers. They are similar to vaccines for diseases like the chicken pox or flu.

8. Test for radon

Now that the colder weather is here, we’re hibernating in our homes, which are sealed tight to keep out the cold. As a precaution, get your home tested for radon, an odourless, tasteless, radioactive gas that seeps up through the ground and diffuses into the air. About 16 percent of lung cancer deaths in Canada are related to indoor radon. You can buy a test kit at the hardware store.

9. Ask about hormone therapy

Both hormone replacement therapy for menopause and the birth control pill can increase the risk of some cancers while reducing the risk of others. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons.

10. Get screened

Tests such as mammograms, Pap tests and stool tests help detect cancer early. Early detection is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is detected it may be easier to treat.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Holmes, Health Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society for her help with this article.



McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE)

Desautels Faculty of Management

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