5 lifestyle changes can drastically reduce your cancer risk, from quitting alcohol to wearing sunscreen

Key points to remember

  • A third to half of all cancers are preventable, according to the World Health Organization.

  • According to the American Cancer Society, cancer deaths in the United States have been declining for three decades.

  • According to experts, a few relatively simple lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your risk of cancer.

In a world full of bad news, here’s a bit of good: one-third to one-half of all cancers are preventable.

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Cancer deaths have been falling for more than three decades and have remained falling even with the raging pandemic, according to a recent report from the American Cancer Society. And they’re reliably dropping a percentage point or two every year, says Karen Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society. Fortune.

The positive trend is due in part to advances in treatments, including vaccines that can fight cancer in those who have it and prevent it from coming back in those who are in remission. (There are also vaccines that can completely prevent it from happening.)

But the steady decline in the number of deaths is also due to the fact that so much of cancer is preventable – and the word is spreading.

Nearly 610,000 cancer deaths are expected in the United States this year, Knudsen says, or just over 1,670 a day. The silver lining: “Eighteen percent of new cancer cases and 16% of cancer deaths are attributable to things people can change.”

Here are five relatively simple lifestyle changes you can make to significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer and improve your overall health.

1. Limit your alcohol consumption or stop it altogether.

You read that right: go dry. Period. Full stop.

Alcohol “has now been linked to five to six types of cancer,” said Dr. Ernest Hawk, chief of the division of cancer prevention and population sciences at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. . Fortune. “We used to think there was a cardiological benefit, but that has been largely refuted.”

While the most recent recommendations call for total avoidance of alcohol to squash the associated cancer risk, if you’re not ready to eliminate it completely, women should consume no more than one drink a day at most. – two a day for men, according to Faucon.

2. Avoid known carcinogens like tobacco (and second-hand smoke too).

Smoking is bad for your health, especially your lungs. It’s not new. But despite widespread knowledge of the fact, 14% to 15% of the population still smoke, says Hawk Fortune.

In addition to being linked to lung cancer, smoking can also lead to other types of cancer like the pancreas and bladder, Knudsen adds.

Those who are addicted to nicotine “really deserve a lot of attention, support and treatment, which is now readily available,” says Hawk. “It is important to know that they are not alone.”

Most smokers (over 95%) cannot quit on their own, he says. The best strategy: “a combination of drugs and advice”. If you smoke and are ready to quit, contact your primary care provider for help or call the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW to speak to a quit coach.

It’s worth mentioning that secondhand smoke can also be incredibly deadly. It is responsible for nearly 7,500 lung cancer deaths each year among American adults who do not smoke, according to the CDC. Non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke increase their risk of lung cancer by 20-30%. So avoid it like the plague.

3. Manage your weight with a diet And exercise.

Not only will it improve your heart health and help control your blood pressure, but it will also reduce your risk of developing cancer in the future, experts say.

Best advice: exercise and eat healthy throughout your life. Some of the advice offered to Fortune readers:

  • Fill about two-thirds of your plate with fruits and vegetables, and the rest with healthy proteins like fish and poultry, advises Hawk.

  • Make sure your diet is varied. “Color matters,” says Knudsen, adding that dark green, red and orange vegetables are desirable, as are high-fiber vegetables like beans and peas. And be sure to add a generous serving of whole grains, plus a rainbow of fruit choices. Avoid highly processed foods.

  • Be sure to get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 to 100 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week, Knudsen recommends.

The closer to the upper end of that range, the better, Knudsen says, adding that experts don’t yet fully understand why there’s a correlation between exercise and cancer reduction.

Still, “you should feel good on your treadmill or walking vigorously, knowing that you’re not only doing good things for your body, but also doing cancer prevention,” she adds.

Although exercise is key, it is not a panacea. Make sure you don’t lead a sedentary lifestyle otherwise, she warns: “Get up and move regularly.

4. Wear sunscreen and don’t use tanning beds.

Again, the goal here is to reduce your exposure to sunburn throughout your life, Hawk says.

“Burns early in life are associated with a long-term risk of skin cancer,” he advises.

When it comes to sun safety, he recommends the following:

  • Wear protective clothing.

  • Avoid going out in the heat of the day.

  • Wear sunscreen every day.

“All the common sense stuff your mom taught you turns out to be true,” he says.

5. Ask about your family risk, even if the conversation is uncomfortable.

It is good to know if you have a history of cancer in your family. But it’s especially crucial to be aware of cancer histories in first-degree relatives — parents, siblings and children, advises Hawk.

“Whether they have precancerous lesions or cancers, that feeds into your risk,” he says.

If any family members have a history of cancer, tell your primary care provider. You will likely be screened earlier than recommended for this type of cancer.

“At least historically, families have been reluctant to share news of a cancer diagnosis, even with loved ones,” he says. “That’s the wrong message. Share exposures, at least among blood relatives, so that everyone is aware that they may be at increased risk.

Some of these lifestyle changes seem simple enough, but we all know that such things are easier said than done. Those looking to improve their overall health and reduce their cancer risk should know that “you don’t have to do this overnight,” says Knudsen.

More good news: changes become easier over time.

“Once you go down this path, people often find that they feel better, which is positive reinforcement,” she adds.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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