Trying to avoid getting cancer can seem like running between raindrops during a storm. Cancer seems to be everywhere. Few people haven’t been touched by it in some way.
The National Cancer Institute expects approximately 39.5% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes.
What causes cancer? Are there preventable causes of cancer?
Those are two of the biggest questions we face. Cancer diagnoses have been on the rise. We know there are more chemicals, modified foods, viruses and pollutants. Technology has ushered in a sedentary lifestyle, and the pressure to provide for our families has increased stress.
At times, it can seem hopeless, but there are steps we can take to protect ourselves from cancer. Jomel Labayog, MD, hematologist and medical oncologist with OSF HealthCare, provides some advice to avoid cancer.
“There are ways to reduce your risks for cancer. However, it’s important to remember that you can take all the precautions and still get cancer,” Dr. Labayog said. “There are things you breathe and don’t realize, like radon, and some cancers result from genetics.”
1. Avoid chemicals that cause cancer
The chemicals that cause cancer are called carcinogens. They can range from industrial cleaners to weed killers and everything in between. Whether or not they will cause cancer depends on the chemical and how much and for how long you were exposed to it.
“Always try to use the mildest and safest chemical to accomplish your goal,” Dr. Labayog said. “There are far too many chemicals to list, so always read the warning label and follow the safety precautions.”
For cleaning and disinfecting, try:
- Hot water
- Hydrogen peroxide
For weed killer, try:
- Adding vinegar, dish soap and Epsom salt to a spray bottle and shake.
- Let the mixture settle and then soak the entire weed.
2. Eat a healthy diet
Our food comes from all over the world. While food is closely monitored, the need for antibodies, fertilizers, preservatives and dyes makes keeping our food safe a monumental task. We can check an additive for safety, but it’s not easy to test how a combination of several additives and environmental factors can interact with our bodies.
“When it comes to foods, staying as close to natural is your best bet,” Dr. Labayog said. “If possible, start a garden or buy local produce. If you can’t read the name on the ingredient list, it’s safer to limit your intake. Vitamins and minerals can help, but you should use natural food to reduce the risk of cancer.”
Being a society on the go can make it difficult to eat nutritious, wholesome foods. Our bodies require nutrients to ensure proper cell reproduction and fiber to remove toxins.
“Our digestive systems play a large part in our overall health. The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ was coined for a reason. Our lifestyles have become fast-paced, and maintaining a healthy diet can become challenging,” Dr. Labayog said. “Highly processed foods, red meat and low intake of fresh fruits and vegetables create a perfect environment for cancer.”
3. Maintain a healthy weight
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting these 13 types of cancer:
- Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus
- Breast (in women who have gone through menopause)
- Colon and rectum
- Upper stomach
- Meningioma (a type of brain cancer)
- Multiple myeloma
These cancers make up a large percentage of preventable cancers diagnosed in the United States annually.
Try to keep your body mass index (BMI) within recommended limits. If you’re considered obese, weight loss is a good place to start improving your overall health.
4. Avoid tobacco and alcohol
“Tobacco and alcohol usage usually go hand in hand. They are both stress relievers and can be very addictive,” Dr. Labayog said. “Smoking harms nearly every organ in your body and is a leading cause of heart disease, lung cancer and cancers that end in death. If you smoke, stop. If you drink, do so moderately.
“At this time, there is no solid evidence that vape pens or electronic cigarettes cause cancer. However, the pens heat a liquid that is inhaled into your lungs, and that is not good. And while vaping nicotine isn’t known to cause cancer, it’s the other chemicals in cigarettes that cause cancer.”
5. Get 30 minutes of activity five days a week
Staying active and exercising are the best things you can do for overall wellness and cancer prevention.
Do you know the early signs of cancer?
“Our bodies were made to move and be active. Getting your heart pumping activates your immune system, improves oxygen transfer and flushes toxins,” Dr. Labayog said. There are so many benefits to staying active that I can’t list them all. Do yourself a favor. Get and stay active to reduce your risk of cancer and a whole host of other conditions.”
6. Protect your skin
Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies. As our body’s armor, it takes a beating. Taking a few precautions now can make a big difference as you age.
The American Cancer Society recommends broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to reduce sun exposure.
- Cover up: When you are out in the sun, wear clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to protect as much skin as possible. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light.
- Seek shade: Staying in the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps: Both can cause severe long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.
“There are a lot of questions surrounding the safety of certain sunscreens for our bodies and the environment. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several options,” Dr. Labayog said.
7. Stay up on cancer screenings and vaccines
Advances in vaccines and immunotherapies are happening every day. So far, the FDA has approved:
- BCG Live – Prevents and treats early-stage bladder cancer
- Sipuleucel-T – Treats prostate cancer that has spread
- Talimogene laherparepvec — Treats melanoma on the skin or lymph nodes
An HPV vaccine can protect you from several cancers, including cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile and throat.
One of the most important things you can do regarding cancer prevention and treatment is screenings.
“Yes. Some screenings prevent cancer. During a colonoscopy, they can remove pre-cancerous polyps before they develop into cancer. It’s the same for skin cancer screenings,” Dr. Labayog said. “But the biggest advantage to get screened is catching cancer as early as possible when it is more treatable.”
There is no sure way to prevent cancer. Some risk factors for cancer are not within our control. These include our age, race and family history.
Last Updated: December 16, 2022