13 Ways You Can Prevent Many Cancers

One in six deaths world-wide is from cancer, yet research shows that at least 42 per cent of cancers could be prevented. Along with healthy eating and not smoking, add these habits to your list of ways to lower your risk.

Michelle Crouch Updated: Mar 17, 2021 11:38:09 IST
13 Ways You Can Prevent Many Cancers Illustration by Serge Bloch

Wear a hat.

A wide-brimmed hat gives your face an added layer of protection on top of your sunscreen. It also covers the back of your neck and your scalp, where many people forget to apply lotion. A University of North Carolina at ­­ Chapel Hill study found that people with melanomas on the scalp or neck die at almost twice the rate of people with skin cancer on other parts of their bodies.


2 Consider taking low-dose (81-mg) aspirin.

Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is sold in India under several brand names, such as Ecosprin, Aspro, Eprin and Delisprin. ­Research shows it may protect you from as many as 10 different cancers including liver, lung and prostate cancer. In a recent study, women who took a low-dose aspirin regularly had a 23 per cent lower risk of ovarian cancer. Some studies, however, show that for certain people, aspirin is not as effective as originally thought in protecting against other diseases. Because it can cause bleeding issues, consult with your doctor whether it’s right for you.


3 Ditch or dim screens before bed.

Studies suggest that high levels of exposure to artificial light at night—especially the blue light emitted by smartphones, TVs and tablets—may boost your risk of breast and prostate cancer. Light disrupts circadian rhythms, which may weaken your body’s immune function. The science is evolving, but you might want to limit your electronics usage in the evening. You could also use a blue-light filter such as the Night Shift setting on most Apple devices.


4 Indulge in a daily cup of joe.

A 2017 review of the evidence indicates that drinking just one cup of coffee—either decaf or regular—every day could lower your risk of several types of cancer, especially liver and endometrial cancer. Scientists think this may be due to the phytochemicals in coffee, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.


5 Check your home for radon.

Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in the ground under your house, and it’s just as likely to be a problem in new homes as in older ones. Because radon is odourless and colour­less, a test is the only way to know your risk. Pick up a test kit online, or hire a professional to check your home. Repeat at least every two to three years.


6 Spend less time sitting.

According to a large-scale study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, people who sat more hours during the day had a 24 per cent increased risk of colon cancer and a 32 per cent increased risk of endometrial cancer compared with those who sat the least. The connection held true even for those who were physically active, indicating that exercise alone is not enough to offset the risks of too much sitting.


7 Get screened for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is a common blood-borne infection. Yet carriers often don’t know they have the virus, because it has no obvious symptoms. For reasons not entirely understood, baby boo-mers are five times more likely to have the virus than other adults, so it’s especially important to be tested if you were born between 1945 and 1965. “We can cure hepatitis C,” says Anna Giuliano, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center. “But if you don’t get screened and it progresses to liver disease, your risk for liver cancer is very high.”


8 Cut out alcohol.

Alcohol has been classified as a known carcinogen and has been linked to at least seven types of cancer. While some researchers say alcohol in moderation is OK, a 2018 study that looked at connections between alcohol and different types of cancer suggests that no amount is safe.


9 Use glass for food storage and heating.

Many plastics contain chemicals that may be linked to cancer, says Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, director of integrative medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center and coauthor of Anticancer Living. BPA has gotten the most attention, but some BPA-free products contain a chemical called BPS that is also believed to be harmful.


10 Skip the salami.

Eating just 15 g of processed meat—that’s a single slice of ham—a day appears to increase your cancer risk by 4 per cent, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. The food industry has responded with new ­nitrate-free options, but there’s no evidence that they are any better than traditional varieties.


11 Question the need for a CT scan.

CT scans are important diagnostic tools, but research shows they are overused. Each blast of radiation can damage DNA and may cause ­tumors later in life. In one study, researchers predicted that nearly two per cent of all future cancers in the United States might be caused by CT scans. While the association appears to be slight, if your doctor suggests a CT scan, ask whether it’s possible to try another type of imaging tool that doesn’t use radiation, such as an MRI or an ultrasound.


12 Get the HPV shot.

This vaccination prevents up to six types of HPV cancers. The shot was originally recommended just for young people, but recently the FDA approved it for every­one under age 45.


13 Don’t count on vitamin D.

Although previous research had suggested a link between lower levels of the popular supplement and cancer, a clinical trial published in late 2018 found that taking vitamin D did not help prevent the disease. (But it is still important for bone health.)

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