20 Ways to Cut Your Cancer risk

20 Ways to Cut Your Cancer risk

Most people are well aware of the substantial risks of cancer from tobacco smoke.  But do we also have to worry about acrylamide, a likely carcinogen in foods that's received a lot of press lately? Or about exposure to nickel, beryllium, and other industrial compounds? 

An estimated 5 to 10 per cent of cancer risk, lower than previously thought, stems from genetic factors.  Those with a strong family history of cancer can use that knowledge to focus on the particular risk factors to guard against.  It is possible, for example, that some people may be especially sensitive to low levels of carcinogens in foods, the environment, and consumer products.  And, because a lot of small risks can add up over a lifetime, it makes sense for everyone to try to avoid as many as possible. 

Over a third of cancers are influenced by smoking, nutrition, physical inactivity, obesity, and other lifestyle factors, and could be prevented," says Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., spokesman for the cancer control science department at the ACS national headquarters in Atlanta. 

Here are the practical steps you can take to reduce your exposure to carcinogens and to help prevent cancer.

1.  Check for asbestos
If you live in home that dates back a couple of decades or more, there may be insulation or other material containing the carcinogen asbestos. Be sure to check out a comprehensive list of asbestos related products if you are worried that you might be at risk. If the material has deteriorated to the point where fibres could escape into the air, it should be removed by a qualified contractor.  Otherwise, it's usually best to leave it alone.

2. Assess your workplace
If you work with chemicals or cancer hazard, such as wood dust, take the proper precautions, which may include wearing protective masks, gloves, or other clothing, and ensuring your work-place is properly ventilated.  Painters and furniture makers may be at increased cancer risk from inhaling carcinogens from paint thinners and wood dust.  People who work at a dry cleaner's should know that studies suggest a possible link between occupational exposure to the chemical perchlorethylene and a few cancers, including lymphomas and cancer of the larynx and urinary bladder.  And hairdressers exposed to certain dyes might also be at higher risk.  Talk to your doctor and employer about concerns for workplace safety information.

3. Have your water tested
Get your town municipality to provide regular reports on the safety of drinking water in your area.  Consuming water contaminated by chemicals like PCBs, trihalomethanes, etc.  may increase the risk of cancer and other problems.

4. Listen to air-pollution reports
Thousands of chemicals, including suspected carcinogens, escape from industrial smokestacks.  A few carcinogens, such as benzene, are belched out in car exhaust.  Unfortunately, air quality is generally not monitored for these chemicals.  But factors that favour ozone buildup and lead to smog alerts probably cause these chemicals to build up too.  Peter Greenwald, M.D., director of the Division of Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute ( NCI ) in Bethesda, Md, advises against exercising outdoors near high traffic areas and on polluted days.  If you have breathing problems, try to stay indoors during smog alerts.

5. Don't breathe smoke
20 Ways to Cut Your Cancer riskOf course, cigarette smoking is by far the most important risk factor for lung cancer, as also cancers of the mouth, stomach, pancreas, liver, kidney, bladder and more.  Passive exposure to secondhand smoke also is a significant cancer-risk factor.  In addition, several studies have linked second-hand smoke from spouses with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.  To avoid secondhand smoke, ban smoking in your house, car, and office.

6. Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily
Physical activity for half an hour to 45 minutes five days a week may reduce your risk of several cancers, notably colon and breast cancer.  It may also prevent other conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and bone loss.

7. Limit your red-meat consumption
A diet heavy in red meat - eating it as the main dish most days of the week - has been linked with and increased risk of some cancers, notably cancer of the colon in many observational studies.

8. Eat your colours
Different - coloured produce contain different phytonutrients, including antioxidants and other disease- fighting substances.  Foods rich in cancer - fighting phytonutrients include red peppers and tomatoes, white onions and garlic, blue berries and plums, yellow peppers and sweet potatoes, and green peas and cauliflower.  Try to eat a variety of colours each day.  In general, choose a varied, well-balanced diet that's high in fibre and low in fat with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

9. Avoid pesticide residues
Washing or peeling produce and removing the outer loaves of leafy vegetables will reduce your exposure to these chemicals.  So will buying organic foods when they're available and affordable.  Organically grown corn and strawberries appear to have significantly higher levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.  The research suggests that pesticides and herbicides reduce exposure to pesticides by using non-chemical methods of insect control in your house and garden.  For example, use lady bugs to keep rose bushes healthy.

10. Avoid charred meat
Cooking meat at high temperatures creates chemicals shown to cause cancer in lab animals.  You can reduce your exposure by removing fat before cooking and by trimming away any charred portions.


11. Eat the right fish
20 Ways to Cut Your Cancer riskSome evidence suggests that eating fish may reduce the risk of certain cancers.  While fatty fish is healthy source of protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, some species accumulate contaminants like PCBs and mercury from polluted waters.  So it's best to limit consumption of fatty fish such as carp, catfish, bass, king mackerel, shark, and swordfish to about twice a week.


12. Go easy on fried foods
In April 2002, Swedish researchers discovered relatively high levels of acrylamide, a likely carcinogen, in certain fried foods, especially french fries and potato chips.


13. Consider avoiding alcohol
Moderate drinking can help protect against heart disease.  Unfortunately, studies also show that even a drink of two a day of wine, beer, or liquor can slightly increase a woman's risk of breast cancer; 2 to 5 drinks a day ups the risk 1.5 times that of teetotalers.  Preliminary research suggests you may be able to get at least some of wines heart benefits from drinking purple-grape juice.

14. Avoid unnecessary X-rays
It's OK to inform your doctors and dentists that you don't want X-rays unless they are truly medically necessary.  If you change dentists, bring a copy of your most recent dental X-rays with you and ask that they be put on file.

15. Request lowest-dose imaging
Ask your radiologist to use the lowest radiation dose necessary to get a clear image.  It's especially important if a CT scan is ordered for a child or any small-framed individual, say Consumers Union's medical consultants.  U.S. health authorities recently raised a concern that children these days are being exposed to too much radiation, and said a single CT scan can deliver as much radiation as 100 standard X-rays. 

16. Check for infection

  • Stomach cancer.  If you have a family history of stomach cancer, talk with your doctor about whether you should be tested for the ulcer-causing bacterium, H. pylori.  Studies suggest the common bug also contributes cancer by chronically inflaming the stomach lining.  If you're infected, talk with your  doctor about antibiotic treatment.

  • Cervical Caner.  See your doctor to be tested for human papillomavirus (HPV), if you notice warts in the genital area, and chlamydia.  Both of those common sexually transmitted infections are linked with higher risks of cervical cancer.

  • Liver Cancer.  Ask your doctor about getting tested for hepatitis C if you are having liver problems, have used illicit intravenous drugs, or had a blood transfusion in the early 90s, when screening for this virus was unavailable.  The virus, which often causes no outward symptoms, can stay active for decades before leading to liver cancer.

17. Reduce your exposure to sun
20 Ways to Cut Your Cancer riskReduce your exposure to sun and its solar radiation to cut your risk of deadly melanoma dramatically.

"Some people have estimated that for certain skin types," Dr. Anderson (Professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin as well as the American Cancer Society Professor of Clinical Oncology.) said, "you could reduce the risk of melanoma by 75 percent if you protect yourself throughout your lifetime. People with fair skin are most susceptible.

18. Practice safe sex.
For example, the more partners a woman has, the greater risk she has for herpes-like viruses that cause many cervical cancers. Avoiding infection with the HIV virus lowers cancer risks also.

19. Keep salt intake to 6 grams a day or less
People who eat lots of highly salted food double their risk of stomach cancer, research suggests. Scientists from Japan's National Cancer Centre Research Institute carried out an 11-year study of 40,000 middle-aged Japanese. The risk of stomach cancer was one in 1,300 per year for those who ate the highest amount of salt, compared to one in 2,000 for those with a relatively salt-free diet.

20. Water May Cut Bladder Cancer Risk
Drinking more of any fluid seems to lower bladder cancer risk, but water decreases risk the most. Drinking more helps your bladder in two ways. The fluid dilutes carcinogens in the bladder, and the more you drink, the more you run to the bathroom, which rids your bladder of carcinogens at a faster rate.

Dr. Michaud (researcher at The Harvard School of Public Health) recommends men--and women--add two or three glasses to their daily water intake, for a total of nine or ten glasses a day. Drink up!

Roughly 39 per cent of women will develop a potentially life-threatening cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). However, Regular cancer screening tests can  help ensure that many forms of cancer are caught at an early enough stage to be effectively treated.


Dated 23 February 2008


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