4 Ways to Limit Your Cancer Risk

Risk is a scary sounding word. But there’s a lot you can do to limit your risk of serious problems. This is true whether you’re climbing a mountain or taking charge of your health.

One health risk we’re all aware of is cancer. In Wisconsin, as in 21 other states, cancer has now overtaken heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death. Two-thirds of all cancer deaths in the U.S. each year are linked to things people can change.

  • One-third of these changes are linked to diet, weight and being inactive.
  • Tobacco products contribute to one-third!

If you don’t want to be one of the 1,600 Americans each day who hear the words “you have cancer,” take a few steps now to reduce your risk. There’s a huge bonus: Each of these steps also reduces your risk of other serious diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Cut your Risks

Genes and family history play a role in your cancer risk. Still, for most people, cancer risk isn’t inherited, rather, it’s due to habits you can change.

Everyone can limit their lifetime risk of developing cancer or dying from it by:

Follow these activity and diet recommendations for cancer prevention from the American Cancer Society:

  1. Stop smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco products.
  1. Maintain a good diet to help you get to and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Limit intake of processed meat and red meat.
  • Eat at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products (like white bread, white rice or white flour).
  • Limit alcohol: one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men. (A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor). More about alcohol and health in the CDC’s FAQs.
  1. Become more physically active.
  • Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week. Spread it throughout the week. To avoid unwanted injury, don’t do it all on the weekend.
  • Limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, watching TV and other forms of screen-based entertainment.
  1. Stay up-to-date on your cancer screenings.
  • Screenings are tests, physical exams or other procedures. They’re designed to find diseases early, which has been proven to increase the chance for cure. You should have screenings when nothing appears to be wrong.
  • If you have risk factors, your health care team will talk about when to get screened. It might be different from the list below.

The recommendations here are on the conservative side. In some cases they start earlier or go later than others you may have seen. We recommend you follow your health care provider’s recommendations.

Cancer Screening Recommendations

  • Breast cancer: Mammogram (women)
    • Every year for women age 45 to 54. Every two years for women age 55 and older.
    • Women aged 40-44 should be offered the choice to start screening mammograms.
  • Cervical cancer: Pap smear and HPV test (women), at these intervals:
    • Ages 21-29: Every three years (provided Pap tests have been normal), along with HPV testing.
    • Ages 30-65: Every five years, along with HPV testing.
    • After age 65: Not recommended (provided previous Pap tests have been normal).
  • Colorectal cancer: Colonoscopy (men and women)
    • Starting at age 50 and until age 75: Every 10 years but more frequently if polyps are found.
  • Lung cancer: Low-dose CT scan of the lungs (men and women with smoking history)
    • Between ages 55 and 77: Every year for people who have smoked one pack a day or more for 30 years (or the equivalent). Can stop screening 15 years after quitting.
  • Prostate cancer: Discuss risk with your health care team (men)
    • By age 50, talk to your doctor about health history and whether to have a screening blood test (PSA).

Read more about screening recommendations:

American Cancer Society

United States Preventative Task Force (USPTF)

Staying in good health and avoiding cancer and other diseases is not something you only do for yourself, but also for the people you love. So why not start now?

Meet the Author

Nancy B. Davis, MD is an oncology/hematology physician at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic in Green Bay, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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