The power to prevent the disease is in your hands
There are a lot of things in life that you can't control - the weather, the stock market and teen-agers. But one thing you can have some influence over is cancer. Over the past several years, researchers have become convinced that it's what we do and don't do in our lives that helps determine our cancer risk.
Only 5 to 10 percent of cancers are inherited. The rest are due to interactions with the environment.
The first and perhaps biggest step you can take in preventing cancer is to stop smoking. But there are other steps you can take to significantly reduce your odds of getting cancer.
- Review your family history. The more of your close relatives who have cancer that can't be blamed on an obvious factor like smoking, the greater your risk for the disease probably is. If you do have a troubling family history though, don't panic. It simply means you may have to begin cancer screenings at an earlier age.
- Eat better than 77 percent of the population. One of the most important things you can do to cut your cancer risk is eat at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Only 23 percent of Americans meet the five-a-day goal. Here's the easiest way to reach your quota: Never eat a meal that doesn't contain a fruit or vegetable. It doesn't have to be much - some fruit on your cereal and a glass of orange juice at breakfast, a couple of thick slices of tomato on your sandwich at lunch, an apple for a snack, a nice salad with dinner - just be consistent.
- Eat more chicken and fish. A recent study found that people who ate about a pound and a half a week of both had a 43 percent lower risk of developing precancerous colon polyps than people who ate roughly the same amount of red meat.
- Avoid charred foods. The following should only be eaten occasionally: meat and fish grilled or broiled in direct flame; cured and smoked meat. Foods cooked by these methods can produce cancer-causing compounds.
- Avoid trendy cigars. We know the arguments: You only smoke an occasional cigar after dinner or when you're out with friends. And you don't inhale. Sorry, that doesn't get you off the hook. Smoking cigars raises your risk of cancers of the mouth, larynx, esophagus and lungs. Whether it's cigars or cigarettes, the amount you smoke may not be a reliable gauge of your risk. There are people who smoke two packs a day and don't get cancer, and half-a-pack smokers who do. Everyone's risks are different.
- Work out more. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of developing a number of cancers, including those of the prostate and colon. How much sweating is necessary to do the job? You should follow the government's exercise guidelines: 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week.
- Make an early tee time. Skin-cancer rates have skyrocketed 162 percent since the mid-1970s, affecting men two to three times as much as women. The good news is that this is one of the easiest cancers to prevent. For starters, even on cloudy days, put on sunscreen before you go outside (choose one that has an SPF of at least 15 and that blocks ultraviolet A and B rays). After you put on sunscreen, cover up with tightly woven clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. And try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when rays are strongest.
The Baptist Health Cancer Resource Center offers a wealth of information on cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment. The Cancer Resource Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To reach the center, call (502) 896-3009 or fax (502) 896-3010. The Cancer Resource Center is a service of the Baptist Health Cancer Care.