Nature vs. Nurture
What can I do?
There’s so much information about cancer out there! It can be overwhelming.
So we’re keeping this simple. Through the partnership between Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) and American Airlines, we are providing you with solid information on how to reduce your risk of getting cancer.
First, a little background. Even though we talk about cancer of the lung or the breast or bladder, it’s actually a disease of DNA. It’s caused by glitches in genes, errors that make cells start growing and spreading out of control.
You may be born with some of these changes in genes, some occur over time, and some result from external influences such as exposure to sunlight or tobacco smoke. For many of these, you can take steps to lower your risk.
“The cancer research community agrees that more than 40 percent of cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths in the US are preventable,” says Ray DuBois, MD, PhD, dean of the college of medicine of the Medical University of South Carolina.
When the researchers grouped the related issues of excess body weight, alcohol intake, poor diet, and physical inactivity, they found this set of risks was responsible for a total of about 18% of cancer cases and 16% of deaths.
So it’s quite simple how you can reduce your cancer risk : Don’t smoke, eat right, and exercise.
Eat, Walk, Thrive
Diet, body weight, and physical activity affect your risk of cancer more than you might think. While there is no specific diet to reduce cancer risk, experts agree that it’s important to maintain a healthy body weight and avoid obesity. Limit consumption of foods high in fats and/or added sugars and foods that are low in fiber, because they contribute to weight gain. Eat a variety of veggies, fruits, whole grain and beans because they pack fewer calories. “It’s definitely a lot healthier,” says Dr. DuBois.
Being physically active and keeping lean, without being underweight, helps you avoid many cancers, including, colorectal, breast and pancreas. Thirty minutes of activity, like brisk walking, on most days of the week are recommended. If you enjoy the intensity of running, swimming or cycling, aim for at least 75 minutes a week spread over a few days.
There’s no other way to say it: Quitting smoking can save your life. People who keep smoking die an average of 10 years earlier than those who have never smoked, according to one study. (2) The American Cancer Society also advises don’t use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco. It’s not just lung cancer: smoking causes 17 other forms of cancer, including cancer in the bladder, kidney, stomach, throat and mouth,(3) not to mention emphysema, heart disease and other problems. A study by the American Cancer Society found that nearly half of cancer deaths from 12 different cancers are attributable to smoking. “If we can stop smoking, we’d have a drastic reduction in cancer,” says Daniel Von Hoff, MD, physician-in-chief at the Translational Genomics Research Institute and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.
The good news? When you quit smoking, your risk starts falling. In 10 years, your risk of lung cancer goes down by 30 to 50 percent. (4) If you quit before 45, you gain back nine of those ten lost years. Even if you’re in your 50s, quitting substantially cuts your risk of dying earlier than if you had never smoked. (2)
SU2C and American Airlines can help you quit with resources that can make it a little bit easier, such as American’s Knock Out Nicotine program.
Experts recommend that heavy smokers or ex-smokers (a pack a day for 30 years), over the age of 55 consider getting yearly scans for lung cancer with low-dose CT to catch any problems early. (5)
The sun don’t shine
Tans, sunburns, tanning salons can cause serious issues for your skin. They can lead to skin cancer, including melanoma, which causes more than 7,000 deaths a year in the US. (6) Even people with dark skin are at risk.
Stay out of the sun or wear protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses and repeatedly apply broad-spectrum sunscreen – The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people of all skin toes use broad-spectrum (meaning both UVA and UVB) waterproof sunscreen rated SPF 30 or higher.
All in the family
For some people, cancer runs in the family, with genetic mutations passed down from one generation to another, so it’s essential to know your family’s history. Says Dr. Von Hoff: “It could be lifesaving.”
Dr. Von Hoff recommends making a family tree, and writing down every case of cancer-especially in people who are young. “Know your family history, and tell your doc about it,” he says.
When you get down to it, reducing your risk of cancer is really pretty simple. “Number one is don’t smoke. Number two is stay active. Number three is know your family history,” says Dr. Von Hoff. “That’s prevention.”