You’ve seen the hype-filled headlines: “The Cancer Prevention Diet!” “Slash Your Risk of Cancer in Half in Just Minutes a Day!” Is it true that you can cut your cancer risk with simple choices you make every day?
Well, there’s nothing magic about cancer prevention, no “killer app” that can instantly keep you healthy. Genetics play a big role in cancer, so even if you try to live a perfectly healthy life, it’s possible that you may develop cancer.
But experts estimate that at least a third of all adult cancer cases are linked to lifestyle, which is within your control.
With every healthy choice you make — and every unhealthy habit you drop — you’re chipping away at your cancer risk. Here are eight of the healthiest habits you can develop to help prevent cancer (plus a ninth one that experts are still cautious about).
1. Be Smoke Free.
Lung cancer kills more women and men in the U.S. than any other cancer — 28% of all cancer deaths, or about 160,000 people every year. The vast majority of those deaths are due to smoking.
And that’s just lung cancer. Smoking has also been linked to more than a dozen other cancers and accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths overall.
That’s why many doctors will tell you that the biggest anti-cancer step you can take is to stop smoking, or never start. But even if you’re having trouble quitting entirely, you can reduce your cancer risk significantly by just cutting back.
A study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010 found that smokers who cut back from about 20 cigarettes per day to less than 10 per day reduced their lung cancer risk by 27%. It’s a good first step, but don’t stop there; quit completely for your health’s sake.
Even if you’re a nonsmoker, don’t assume smoke isn’t permeating your life. About 3,000 cases of lung cancer each year occur as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke, and there are strong indicators that other cancers may be linked to secondhand smoke as well.
These lifestyle choices may make cancer less likely.
“If you’re in a closed bar or nightclub and 100 people in there are smoking, you might as well be,” says Mack Ruffin IV, MD, MPH, a professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Michigan and an expert in preventive oncology. “If you leave a bar and your clothes are smelling of tobacco, you’ve inhaled a lot of cigarette smoke.”
So think twice before spending regular nights out in smoke-filled clubs, or letting your child ride home regularly with someone who smokes in the car.