The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to take control of your health and develop a strategy that will help you reach your goals throughout the year.
Did you know that researchers estimate that about one-third of the deaths from cancer can be prevented? Many types of cancers are related to lifestyle factors such as diet, obesity, smoking, and lack of physical exercise. In addition, changing these behaviours can lower your risk for other diseases as well.
Although the risk of developing cancer can be greatly reduced by avoiding risk factors, not all cancers are preventable. Here are seven tips to help you have a healthier and happier new year:
1. Quit smoking.
If you do nothing else, do this. Smoking is the single greatest preventable cause of cancer, and has been linked to cancers of the lung, bladder, pancreas, kidney, nose and mouth, stomach, cervix, prostate, and colon, as well as heart disease, miscarriages, colds, ear infections as well as asthma and bronchitis among children living in households where family members smoke.
Tobacco products, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco cause at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight may increase your risk of contracting cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, prostate and uterus. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight while 30 and above is considered obese. A BMI is the measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to both adult men and women. Being physically active for at least 30 minutes each day and eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can help you maintain a healthy weight.
3. Exercise regularly
Several studies have shown that regular physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of colon cancer. What is more, there is evidence showing that exercise may also help in preventing other types of cancer, such as breast, uterine, prostate, kidney, and lower esophageal cancers. Talk with your doctor and health care team about an exercise plan that is appropriate for your medical history and individual fitness goals.
4. Limit alcohol consumption.
Alcohol has been linked to cancers of the breast, colon, mouth, esophagus, liver, and larynx (voice box). If you drink alcohol, limit consumption to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men (whether it’s a glass of wine, bottle of beer, or shot of liquor) and choose non-alcoholic beverages at meals and parties.
5. Get screened for cancer.
The following screening tests may help detect cancer. Talk to your doctor to find out which cancer screening is appropriate for you.
• Mammography (an x-ray of the breast) for breast cancer
• A Pap test (a test where cells are gently scraped from the inside of a woman’s cervix and vagina and examined) for cervical cancer
• Tests for colorectal cancer, which may include colonoscopy (examination that checks the upper and lower part of the colon with a thin, lighted tube), fecal occult blood test (used to detect hidden blood in stool [feces]), and sigmoidoscopy (examination that checks the lower part of the colon with a thin, lighted tube).
6. Protect your skin from the sun.
According to the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common of all cancers in the United States, with approximately one million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosed each year. Although most skin cancers appear after the age of 50 years, skin damage from the sun begins earlier in life. To protect your self from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, stay out of direct sunlight between 10:00 a.m and 4:00 p.m, wear a hat and a long-sleeve shirt and pants, and use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
7. Know the seven warning signs of cancer.
Knowing the most common symptoms of cancer is important in helping to detect cancer early. The following are possible symptoms of cancer. Sometimes, people with cancer do not show any symptoms. Sometimes these symptoms may be similar to symptoms of other medical conditions. Talk with your doctor if there is no obvious cause for one of these symptoms or if you have been experiencing them for several weeks.
• A change in bowel or bladder habits
• A sore that doesn’t heal
• Unusual bleeding or discharge
• A thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body
• Difficulty swallowing or chronic indigestion
• An obvious change in a wart or mole
• Hoarseness or a cough that persists.
• The preference of the woman and her doctor
Risk Factors and Prevention
Cancer Prevention and risk-reduction strategies can greatly lower the physical, emotional, and financial burden of cancer and improve the overall health of cancer survivors, including lowering the risk of the cancer coming back or the formation of a second cancer.
Understanding your risk for cancer is important because it can help your doctor determine whether you could benefit from additional care, such as:
• Receiving a cancer screening test
• Receiving a screening test at an earlier age and/or more often than the general population
• Having another intervention, such as surgery or medication to lower your cancer risk
To help find out and understand your risk of cancer, you may consider asking your doctor the following questions:
• What risk factors do I have and how do they affect my risk of cancer?
• What is my chance of developing cancer in the next five years? In my lifetime?
• What can I do to lower my risk of cancer?
• If I change my behavior to eliminate a risk factor (for example, quit smoking), what are my chances of developing cancer in the next five years? In my lifetime?
• If I develop a new risk factor (for example, if a close relative develops cancer), how much does my risk increase compared to the general population?
• What screening tests do you recommend to help detect cancer?
Love yourself, value your life by taking charge of your health this year.
The author is a Breast Cancer Survivor and Founder Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa Inc.