7 lifestyle tips to reduce your cancer risk

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We likely all know someone who has been affected by cancer. While some cancers form due to factors outside of our control, some lifestyle choices can help reduce your cancer risk.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 2 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2023, and about 610,000 people died from cancer. Research shows that more than 40% of these cases and nearly half of the deaths can be linked to preventable causes.

Our experts at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center break down seven lifestyle choices you can make to help prevent cancer.

1. Don’t use tobacco

Tobacco use is attributed to 30% of all cancer-related deaths. It’s been linked to many types of cancers, including:

No forms of tobacco products are safe. This includes cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and hookahs or waterpipes. Vaping products can also contain many carcinogens – though at a lower level – that are found in combustible tobacco. Secondhand smoke also increases your risk for cancer.

Quitting tobacco is an important way to help prevent many cancers.

Learn more about our tobacco cessation program and ways to quit

See how our Comprehensive Cancer Center team is working to reduce tobacco-related harm in California

2. Maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle

Staying active may help prevent certain cancers. Excess weight results in the production and circulation of more estrogen and insulin, two hormones that can encourage cancer growth. Maintaining a healthy weight may lower the risk of breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney cancers.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week for cancer prevention. A combination of moderate and vigorous exercise is best. Something is better than nothing. Even a short walk, bike ride or pickle ball game a few days a week to get your body moving can help.

3. Be mindful of what you eat and drink

Up to 50% of preventable cancers are a result of the foods we eat. Eating a plant-based diet, limiting how much red meat you eat and limiting alcohol consumption may help prevent certain cancers.

Alcohol increases the risk of various types of cancer, including breast, colon, lung, kidney and liver cancers. Heavier drinkers are at higher risk of cancer.

According to guidelines from the American Cancer Society, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether. People who choose to drink alcohol should limit their intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink a day for women.

Explore 6 simple eating and exercise tips that can reduce your cancer risk

4. Wear sunscreen

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. and the world. More than 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin cancer is also the most preventable cancer.

Proper use of sunscreen is crucial to reducing the risk of sun damage and skin cancer. Even with sunscreen, avoid being outside when the sun is directly overhead. This is typically between 10 a.m. and 4 pm. Stay away from tanning beds and avoid extended exposure to direct sunlight.

See what you should know about sunscreen, SPF, and protecting your family

5. Get vaccinated

Protecting against certain viral infections can help protect against cancer. Human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI), can cause cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is available to people ages 26 and under. It protects against 90% of cancer caused by HPV.

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups to prevent HBV infection.

Learn more about HPV vaccines and cervical cancer screenings

6. Get screened

Regular self-exams and routine screenings for cancers can increase your chances of finding cancer early. Early detection is key to successful cancer treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these screening tests to prevent or catch cancer early:

Talk to your primary care provider about scheduling a routine screening

7. Know your family history

Knowing the diseases that run in your family plays an important role in understanding your cancer risk. If you have a family history of breast, ovarian, uterine, or colorectal cancer, you may have a higher risk for developing these cancers.

The CDC recommends that you gather your family health history from blood-related family members. This includes biological parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, nieces, nephews, and children.

To gather your family health history, ask those relatives:

  • Who in the family has had cancer, and what kind(s) did they have?
  • How old were they when they were diagnosed with cancer?
  • Are they still living? If not, at what age did they die, and what caused their death?

Healthy lifestyle choices can make a difference in your cancer risk

In short, many of us will be affected by cancer in our lifetime – whether that’s being diagnosed ourselves or having a loved one diagnosed. While there is no surefire way to prevent cancer, we all have the ability to make healthy lifestyle choices that can protect us and limit our risk of cancer.

Medically reviewed by David Cooke, physician-in-chief of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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