Nothing is sure to prevent cancer—the disease is linked to genetics, environmental factors, age, and plain luck. Still, there’s strong evidence these habits can lower your risk.
“The worst thing you can do from a cancer perspective is smoke,” says Jennifer Ligibel, MD, a medical oncologist with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. If you smoked in the past, your risk of cancer drops dramatically if you quit, according to the ACS. Visit quitnow.net or smokefree.gov for free help with kicking the habit.
Keeping Weight in Check
Obesity puts your body under stress that gets in the way of its ability to repair damaged cells, says Linda Nebeling, PhD, deputy associate director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)’s Behavior Research Program in Rockville, Maryland. Experts emphasize trying not to accumulate fat around the abdomen. Women should aim for a waist size of 31 ￼inches or less, men for 37 inches or less.
A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of 13 types of cancer, including breast and endometrial cancers and tumors of the bladder, bone marrow, colon, kidney, liver, and lung. Government authorities recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, such as walking or slow biking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running or tennis.
Changing Your Diet
Studies linking fruits and vegetables to reduced cancer risk are mixed, but produce provides nutrients that help repair the cell damage that leads to cancer. Aim to eat at least five servings daily. Meanwhile, adults should limit consumption of red meat to 18 ounces per week, recommends the American Institute for Cancer Research. Eat small amounts of processed types (like hot dogs and bacon) at the occasional brunch or cookout.
The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of certain cancers. The ACS recommends women have no more than one drink daily, and men no more than two. It’s a compromise, says Marisa Weiss, MD, founder and chief medical officer of Breastcancer.org: “Alcohol is part of every fun occasion, and red wine is good for the heart.” She says if women stick to three glasses or less weekly, they can avoid spiking their breast cancer risk. And a few drinks a week is enough to reap any heart benefits.
Avoiding the Sun
Skin cancers are the most common cancers. Wear multi- or broad-spectrum SPF daily to fend off both UVB and UVA rays. “But don’t use it as a way to stay out longer,” says Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society (ACS). Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and if you have to be outside for hours, wear a hat, long sleeves, and pants. Steer clear of tanning beds, which are linked to melanoma.
Vaccination against two common cancer-causing viruses virtually eliminates infection. Adults at risk for hepatitis B (those who have had more than one sexual partner in a year, work in the health care field, use IV drugs, travel frequently to Africa or other high-risk regions, or have other risk factors) should be vaccinated against hep B, which can lead to liver cancer. Make sure your kids are vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, which causes most cervical and some oral cancers.
Checking for Home Hazards
Cancer-causing asbestos can lurk in the walls and pipes of homes built before 1980. Doing renovations? Hire a professional to test for it and remove it. About 1 in 15 U.S. homes contains elevated levels of radon, a gas linked to lung cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Local officials can tell if you’re in an at-risk zone, and home test kits cost about $20.