Doctor’s Orders: 7 Changes to Make Today to Lower Your Cancer Risk

Lose some weight, exercise more, drink less and limit McDonald's

Gerson Sobel, 93, of Rockville Center, New York swims his morning laps at the Freeport Recreation Center on February 6, 2004 in Freeport, New York.
Get in the pool or at least walk more. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

In the United States, cancer ranks second only to heart disease as the leading cause of death and disability. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that in 2017, there will be 1,688,780 new cases of cancer in the United States and 600,920 people will die from the disease.

All of us have been affected by cancer one way or another. The World Health Organization predicts  that by 2032 cancer cases will increase by about 70 percent. Encouraging news is the number of cancer survivors has increased while the overall cancer death rate in the United States has declined since the early 1990s. Credit earlier detection, better treatment methods and improved education of the public on preventing the disease. Even though progress is being made, there is still much work to be done.

How to Reduce Your Cancer risk

It is still not completely understood what causes most cancers. We know our genes influence risk of cancer and exposure to carcinogens play a role also. Those factors we cannot always control. But there is one area we do have control over and that is our everyday lifestyle habits. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates about 20 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumptions, and/or poor nutrition, all of which can be changed by most of us.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, about one-third of common cancers could be prevented by eating a healthy diet. Foods rich in cancer-fighting compounds such as polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids have powerful anti-inflammatory properties which promote cancer cell death. Here are the 7 steps you need to know to cut your cancer risk starting today:

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight

Carrying excess weight is likely to raise your risk for developing cancer. Obesity causes a rise in inflammation in the body and can have a negative effect on the immune system.

How to do this:

  • Avoid weight gains and increases in waist circumference throughout adulthood
  • If you’re currently overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight, about 5-10% of current body weight, provides health benefits.
  • Keep calorie levels reasonable for your age and activity level and keep portion size under control
  1. Make physical activity a part of everyday life

Too little to no exercise is associated with a 30 to 40 percent increase in cancers of the breast, colon, kidney, pancreas, and uterus. Keeping physically active strengthens the immune system and feelings of well-being.

How to do this:

  • Be moderately physically active for at least 150 minutes each week or be vigorously active for at least 75 minutes each week or combine the two throughout the week.
  • Limit sedentary habits such as sitting, lying down, watching TV, being on the computer or playing video games.
  1. Reduce foods and beverages promoting weight gain

The more foods we eat with added sugar and fats, the more likely we’ll gain weight plus we take in less nutrients that may protect us from cancer cells developing.

Banana Yogurt Split with Berries.
Increase fruits and vegetables in your diet. Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Cat Cora

How to do this:

  • Limit intake of energy-dense foods such as cookies, cakes, pies, ice cream.
  • Avoid drinks with added sugar
  • Limit “fast food”
  1. Eat mostly plant foods 

Plant-based foods are linked with a lower risk of cancer. Half of your plate at each meal should include a variety of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.

How to do this:

  • Have a fruit and/or vegetable with every meal
  • Eat more cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, rutabagas, Brussel sprouts
  • Eat more healthy unprocessed grains and/or legumes with every meal
  • Avoid refined starchy foods such as white flour, sugar or white rice
  1. Limit alcohol

Alcoholic beverages may increase your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), esophagus, liver, breast, colon, and rectum. If combined with smoking, it is considered even more harmful.

How to do this:

  • If you choose to drink an alcoholic beverage, limit consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women
  1. Limit red meat and avoid processed meat

Red meat and processed meats have been indicated as possibly increasing the risk of certain cancers such as colon and rectal cancers.

How to do this:

  • Eat red meat (beef, pork, lamb) no more than 1-2 times a week and limit portion sizes to 3-4 ounces
  • Eat very little processed meat (sausage, hot dogs, bacon, luncheon meat, pastrami)

7. Women should breastfeed their babies

Women who breastfeed reduce their risk of pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer. Breastfeeding causes hormonal changes delaying menstrual periods. This lessens a woman’s lifetime exposure to hormones like estrogen, which can promote breast cancer cell growth. Because breastfeeding prevents ovulation, it can also lower a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer again due to less exposure to estrogen and abnormal cells that could become cancerous.

How to do this:

  • Women should breastfeed exclusively for at least six months
  • For every 12 months a woman breastfeeds, her risk of breast cancer is reduced by 4.3%. This 12-month period could be with one child or as the total for several children.
  • Children who were breastfed also are at a lower risk of cancer during their lives. Breastfed babies have less risk of being overweight to obese later in life. Carrying excess weight can put a person at a disadvantage for many cancers such as pancreatic, breast, endometrial, esophageal, rectal, and kidney cancers.

We may not be able to completely avoid cancer, but the more we take active steps to prevent the disease, the greater chance we have of reducing our risks and beating the odds of staying cancer-free.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team Learn more at Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and Facebook. Doctor’s Orders: 7 Changes to Make Today to Lower Your Cancer Risk