Research shows that weight, diet, and activity level affect cancer risk. Learn 10 steps you can take to lower your risk.
Body fat, diet, and physical activity have a direct effect on your risk of cancer, according to research by the World Cancer Research Fund. This expert group of more than 100 scientists spent 5 years reviewing thousands of cancer studies. The group found evidence that:
- Being overweight puts people at risk for eight cancers: colorectal, esophageal, uterine (endometrial), pancreatic, kidney, gallbladder, and breast cancers.
- Some foods increase cancer risk, while others help lower it.
- Being physically active can protect against some types of cancer. It also helps control weight.
You can reduce cancer risk
Most people know they can lower their risk of cancer by not smoking. But they may not be aware of other steps they can take to reduce cancer risk. In fact, many people think it’s impossible to prevent some types of cancer.
Actually, experts estimate that in developed countries like the U.S.:
- About one-third of the most common cancers could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet.
- About one-third of all cancer cases could be prevented by not smoking and avoiding tobacco smoke.
10 keys to cancer prevention
If you can’t do them all, do what you can. Any progress toward these goals could help. Aim for gradual changes that you can stick with over time.
Staying at a healthy weight is one of the most important ways to protect against cancer. A body mass index (BMI) between 21 and 23 is best. Try to avoid weight gain as you age, especially around your waist.
Move more, sit less
Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Take a brisk walk, ride a bike, or work in your garden. Look for ways to build more activity into your everyday life, such as walking to work or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Check with your doctor before you increase your activity level.
Shun sugary drinks and fast foods
High-fat fast foods and junk foods as well as sugary drinks have a lot of calories and make you more likely to gain weight.
Eat more plant-based foods
Add more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) to your diet. These foods are high in nutrients and fiber and low in calories. Limit your intake of refined starchy foods, which promote weight gain.
Limit red and processed meats
Red meats and processed meats have been linked to colon cancer. Limit red meat (beef, pork, lamb, goat), and choose lean cuts. Avoid meats that are cured, smoked, or salted or have added preservatives. Poultry and fish are healthier choices.
If you choose to drink alcohol, have no more than two drinks a day if you’re a man or one drink a day if you’re a woman.
Limit salt and salty foods
We need some salt (sodium) for health, but most people get far too much. And most of it comes from processed foods. Read food labels carefully and try to limit salt. Most people should get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. Many people should aim for 1,500 mg a day or less. Check with your doctor.
Don’t count on supplements to prevent cancer
Try to get the vitamins and minerals you need from the foods you eat, not from pills. Your doctor can tell you if you need to take vitamins or minerals to supplement your diet.
Breast-feed at least 6 months
If you are a mother, try to breast-feed your baby for at least 6 months.This can help protect you from breast cancer. It may also help keep your baby from being overweight now and later in life.
Don’t smoke or chew tobacco
Tobacco use is linked to at least 15 types of cancer and accounts for about 30 percent of cancer deaths. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. And don’t let other people smoke around you. Secondhand smoke can also be deadly.
If you are a cancer survivor, you should also follow the above recommendations (unless your doctor gives you other guidance). They may help protect you against future cancers as well as other chronic diseases.