February is Cancer Prevention Month, a critical time to increase public awareness and emphasize the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle to combat, and even help prevent, the disease. Cancer, caused by the division of abnormal cells in certain parts of the body, is a complex disease with a wide variety of risk factors. These may range from aging and family history to environmental exposure and lifestyle choices. Though a number of things could influence one’s risk for developing different types of cancer, most physicians agree that being diligent about preventive screenings and taking steps to improve overall health can improve a patient’s prognosis – or, better yet, help reduce the likelihood of developing cancer at all.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that approximately one third of cases of the most common cancers could actually be prevented by eating nutritious foods, getting plenty of exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. In honor of Cancer Prevention Month, Harbin Clinic Cancer Center offers the following suggestions for living a healthy, cancer-free life.
Eating a well-balanced diet can reduce your risk of cancer by keeping the body healthy, strengthening the immune system, and protecting your cells from damage that can lead to cancer. Steer clear of highly processed foods, and be sure to consume a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. While no specific food or nutrition plan has been shown to actually prevent cancer, eating nutritious foods gives your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to stay strong and pack a punch against illness and disease in general.
Exercise is important for good overall health and can provide both physical and emotional benefits. The good news is that you don’t have to go to the gym to get in a cardio workout! Try adding a splash of physical activity in to your daily activities. For example, walk briskly to the mailbox to get your mail instead of picking it up as you pull into the driveway or take several walking breaks throughout the workday instead of sitting at your desk. Gradually increase the level of rigor and duration of your exercise regimen so you can commit to 30 minutes for 3-5 days per week. Exercising regularly can help reduce your risk for obesity, which is a major risk factor for various cancers, so maintaining a healthy weight is essential.
Don’t light up
Discontinuing tobacco use is a very important way to protect you from developing cancer. Five years after quitting smoking, the risk of developing mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer is cut in half, and cervical cancer risk declines to that of a non-smoker. Ten years after quitting, the risk of lung cancer is about half of a person who is still smoking.
The second best thing to preventing cancer altogether is being able to detect it early to have a better chance at making a full recovery. So be diligent about seeing your doctor regularly and having health screenings done on time! According to the National Cancer Institute, screenings may reduce cancer morbidity because treatment for earlier-stage cancers is often less aggressive than that for more advanced-stage cancers.
For instance, when it comes to lung cancer, the deadliest form of the disease, great strides are being made to help detect it before it becomes more severe. In fact, Medicare recently announced that it will now provide coverage for a low-dose computerized axial tomography (CT) scan for senior adults who meet specified criteria. This qualifying group consists of five million Americans who are most at-risk for lung cancer, so the new screening has the potential to save more lives than any other cancer test in history. It could actually reduce lung cancer mortality rates by at least 20 percent. Ask your primary care provider if you meet the criteria for lung cancer screening.