In order to reduce your risk of getting cancer in the first place, there are some simple habits you can employ in your daily life. The combination of these habits will allow you to live smart and make the right choices to help you avoid cancer in the first place. These habits do not provide a guarantee that by employing them you can always prevent cancer but they certainly stack the odds in your favour of not getting the disease.

Remember there are six simple ways of reducing your cancer risk.

  • Avoid tobacco
  • Be sun safe
  • Eat healthy
  • Control your bodyweight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit your alcohol

Avoid tobacco

Did you know tobacco smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, over 60 of which are known to cause cancer? When you inhale cigarette smoke these chemicals enter your lungs and spread through your body via the blood and lymph systems. Chemicals in tobacco also affect people who are exposed to cigarette smoke. Second-hand or passive smoking poses health risks to adults similar to active smoking.

Chewing tobacco can be equally dangerous. Chewing tobacco contains about 28 cancer causing agents which increase a person’s risk of developing cancer of the oral cavity.

There is nothing beneficial your body gains by you chewing or smoking tobacco. Tobacco is the most preventable cause of cancer and you would be doing yourself a favour by staying away from it!

Be sun safe

A major cause of skin cancer is excess exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Over time these UV rays can cause damage to the fibres of the skin causing long term damage.

Skin cancer however is largely preventable if you are sun safe and avoid long exposures to intense sunlight. You can be sun safe by practicing these few steps:
  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Remain in the shade, especially in the middle of the day - This is the time when the sun’s rays are the strongest
  • Wear protective clothing – Always wear comfortable clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible when you are out in the sun
  • Use a sunscreen - Always use a sunscreen when going out in the sun; Use sun screens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more
  • Wear a hat and shades – Cover your head with a hat to protect your face and wear shades to protect your eyes and the surrounding skin

These simple steps will not only help your skin look younger but will also help you avoid long term damage and cancer.

Eat healthy

In general, eating a healthy, balanced diet reduces your risk of developing a disease… even one like cancer. The right form of nutrition provides the body with the energy it requires to ward off unwanted changes. Cancers associated with diet are most commonly found in the digestive tract, including the oesophagus, stomach and bowel.

Improving your diet can be as simple as doing the following:
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables - An adult must aim to consume 5 portions in total of fruits and vegetables each day; One portion is approximately 1 cup of raw fruit or vegetable or ½ cup of cooked vegetables
  • Increase your intake of wholegrain - Bread, rice, pasta and noodles contain fibre, and a diet high in fibre can reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer
  • Reduce your intake of red meat - Research shows that diets high in red meat (lamb, pork or beef) can increase the risk of developing cancer; it is recommended to limit your intake of red meat to 300gms per week or better still replace it with chicken or fish all together

Control your bodyweight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing certain types of cancer. Being overweight increases the amount of fat tissue in the body. Fat tissue produces excess amounts of oestrogen which is associated with breast and endometrial cancer. Also, obese people have increased levels of insulin in the body which may promote the development of certain tumours.

The Body Mass Index (BMI), is a measurement used to assess people’s body weight - It is a measure of your body weight in relation to your height. A score over 25 is classed as overweight and a score over 30 as obese. A BMI of between 18.5 and 25 is considered normal with anything less than 18.5 considered underweight.

To maintain a healthy body weight, eat a balanced diet that only contains as much energy (calories) as you use each day. If your BMI is above 25, you should also try to increase your level of physical activity while maintaining or reducing your food intake, particularly foods that are high in sugar and fat.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Apart from improving cardiovascular fitness, maintaining bone mineral density and reducing stress, it can also decrease your risk of developing cancer. Physical activity regulates hormones such as insulin-like growth factor and oestrogen and affects the speed with which food passes through the bowel, reducing contact with any potential carcinogens.

For good health, the required physical activity level is at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. It doesn’t have to be continuous; three x 10 minutes sessions are also good. Each activity session should last at least 10 minutes. Moderate physical activity includes any activity in which you can still hold a conversation, such as brisk walking.

For those who are able to do it, 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day would also be sufficient. Vigorous physical activity includes any activity that makes you ‘huff and puff’, such as fast swimming, cycling or jogging.

So, don’t wait, get out there and get your body moving!

Limit your alcohol

Drinking any type of alcohol (beer, wine or spirits) increases the risk of developing cancer. The risk increases if the person is also a smoker as the effect on the body is compounded. Remember, alcohol is also high in energy (calories) and can easily contribute to weight gain which further increases your cancer risk. The more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk of developing cancer.

Alcohol is best avoided but if you choose to consume alcohol then recommended guidelines suggest that men should not consume more than 3 units and women not more than 2 units of alcohol per day. Recommended guidelines may vary slightly from country to country but only slightly…

1 unit of alcohol is approximately 10ml/8g of pure alcohol, a single glass of spirits (35ml) is approximately 1.5 units, a standard glass of wine is approximately 2 units, a pint of regular beer is approximately 2 units. Be careful about cocktails… they could contain more than a few standard drinks!

So, if you don’t drink then please don’t start and if you do then limit it.