Top 10 Things You Can Do to Lower Your Cancer Risk Today

Dr. Amir

The risk of cancer grows with age, and no one is immune from this risk. Fortunately, there are many things you can do today to dramatically lower your risk of cancer.

1. Get vaccinated. The Guardasil vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) is now approved for both young men and women ages 9 to 26 to reduce the risk of cervical cancer in women and anal cancer in both women and men. Vaccination against hepatitis B, now routinely given to infants, reduces the risk of liver cancer. Both of these vaccines involve a series of 3 shots, so make sure that you keep up with your schedule and receive the full series to fully protect yourself.

2. Practice Safer Sex. Using condoms and limiting your number of sexual partners reduce your exposure to HIV, Hepatitis B, and HPV - all of which increase your risk of cancer.

3. Protect Yourself from the Sun. Exposure to ultraviolet rays, which come both from the sun and from tanning beds, dramatically increases your risk of several types of skin cancer. To best protect yourself, avoid midday sun exposure from 10am to 4pm. When you are in the sun, long-sleeved shirts and broad-brimmed hats are your best form of protection. Any exposed skin should be covered with a "broad-spectrum" sunscreen (which will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of at least 30. To be most effective, sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.

4. Take Your Shirt off. To make sure any skin cancers or pre-cancers are caught early, take off your shirt when you go to the doctor for a check-up and let him examine your skin completely. Your primary care doctor can usually keep an eye on your skin for you and refer to a dermatologist as needed if there is any suspicion of cancer.

5. Move. Physical activity helps you to maintain a healthy weight, which decreases your risk of breast, prostate, colon, and other cancers. What kind of exercise is best? Whichever one you will do! Pick something you enjoy -it could be anything from playing on a sports team to swimming to strolling in the park with friends. People who are active and fit reduce their risk of cancer. Period.

6. Stay up-to-date on screenings. For women over 21, that means getting PAP smears every 1-3 years or less, depending on your risk and history. If over age 40, it's time to talk to your doctor about when you need to start mammograms. For men and women, colon cancer screening typically starts at age 50. Talk to your doctor about whether you are up-to-date on all of your regular cancer screenings. If you have a family history of a certain type of cancer, you may need earlier or more frequent screening.

7. Improve your Diet. Diets with plenty of fruits and vegetables and with reasonable portion sizes can help control your weight, which may lower your risk of colon, prostate, breast, and other cancers. Women who breastfeed also have a decreased risk of breast cancer - and the longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk.

8. Quit tobacco. Smoking and smokeless tobacco both dramatically increase your risk for cancer, but luckily there are more tools than ever to help you quit. Over-the-counter options include nicotine-replacement products such as patches and gum. Your doctor can also prescribe medications to help you quit, such as Wellbutrin or Chantix. Many states also have a "Quitline," a number you can call for free one-on-one support with an experienced coach who can help you keep your commitment to quit. You can locate the number for your local quitline online or from your doctor.

9. Limit alcohol intake. Doctors recommend that women have no more than one alcoholic drink on any given day and that men have no more than two. Drinking more can increase your risk of breast, colon, liver, and other types of cancer. If you have trouble limiting your alcohol intake, consider seeking help from your doctor or from Alcoholics Anonymous.

10. Know your ABC's. Melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer, can be identified early if you know the signs.

A is for Asymmetry. (One half of the mole is not like the other.)

B is for Border. (Any irregular or poorly defined border is suspect.)

C is for Color. (Variation in color from one area of the mole to another is suspicious.)

D is for Diameter. (Most melanomas are bigger than an eraser head when diagnosed, so keep your eye on anything that is large or growing.)

E is for Evolving. (This includes any mole that changes in size, shape or color.)

If you have a mole that meets any of the above criteria, or that bleeds, itches, or seems different than your other moles, you should have it checked by a physician.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that anyone can completely eliminate his or her chance of getting cancer. But armed with knowledge, you can tilt the odds in your favor to live the longest and most enjoyable life possible for you.