Want to reduce your risk of cancer? Try these evidence-based tips

The Bottom Line

  • Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, but you can reduce your risk: up to 50% of all cancer cases are preventable.

  • Lifestyle factors – including diet, activity level and use of harmful substances – impact people’s chances of getting cancer and other serious chronic diseases.

  • Following recommended guidelines will not only reduce cancer risk, but will result in other health benefits

Did you know that in 2017, 206 200 people in Canada will be diagnosed with some type of cancer? (1) That's an alarming statistic but maybe it doesn't surprise you. Chances are cancer has affected your life in some way or another - either due to your own diagnosis or that of family members and friends. Thanks to medical advancements, many types of cancer can be effectively treated. Still, cancer remains the leading cause of death in Canada (2).

Fortunately, there are a number of strategies you can use to reduce your risk. In fact, 41% to 63% of all cancer cases in women and men are preventable, according to a recent study (3). Here are six scientifically proven strategies for lowering your chance of getting cancer.

Stay physically active

If it seems like the solution for everything health related is exercise, that's because it is a key to maintaining function. Our bodies were designed to move and when our muscles (including our heart) aren't maintained properly through physical activity, we put ourselves at great health risk. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) every day to reduce your risk of cancer (4).

Maintain a healthy body weight

More than 20% of Canadian adults have obesity (5), putting them at significantly greater health risk for other chronic and serious diseases, including cancer. One way to maintain a healthy body weight is through a combination of exercise (see above) and a healthy diet (see below).

Eat for optimal health

Dietary recommendations from the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research include eating at least five servings of a variety of non-starchy vegetables and/or fruits every day and avoiding, or at least limiting, red meat and processed meat (4).

Limit your alcohol

Happy hour sounds like good times, but alcohol is a risk factor for certain types of cancer. If you must drink, do so within recommend limits (4).

Practice safe sun

Skin cancers are extremely common and can be serious (1). Most are the result of too much exposure to the sun and people with a history of severe sunburns are most at risk (6).

Butt out!

Most people know smoking is bad for you. How bad? Tobacco use is the single greatest avoidable risk factor for death due to lung cancer, and roughly 80% of lung cancers could be prevented if smoking was eliminated (3).

Do these tips sound familiar? No doubt you've heard them before but they bear repeating and are definitely worth heeding! It's never too late to make lifestyle changes that will help you stay healthy and active, while reducing your risk of cancer and other serious diseases.

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  1. Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017. Toronto (ON): Canadian Cancer Society; 2017. Available from: http://www.cancer.ca/~/media/cancer.ca/CW/cancer%20information/cancer%20101/Canadian%20cancer%20statistics/Canadian-Cancer-Statistics-2017-EN.pdf?la=en

  2. Statistic Canada. Table 102-0561 - Leading causes of death, total population, by age group and sex, Canada, annual, CANSIM (database). (accessed: July 2017]. Available from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/hlth36a-eng.htm

  3. Song M, Giovannucci E. Preventable incidence and mortality of carcinoma associated with lifestyle factors among white adults in the United States. JAMA Oncol. 2016;2(9):1154-61.

  4. World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, nutrition, physical activity, and the prevention of cancer: A global perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2008. Available from: http://www.wcrf.org/sites/default/files/Second-Expert-Report.pdf

  5. Statistics Canada. Table 105-0501 - Health indicator profile, annual estimates, by age group and sex, Canada, provinces, territories, health regions (2013 boundaries) and peer groups, occasional, CANSIM (database). (accessed: July 2017) Available from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14185-eng.htm

  6. Linares MA, Zakaria A, Nizran P. Skin cancer. Prim Care. 2015 Dec;42(4):645-59.

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