5 Considerations to Reduce your Cancer Risk

Cancer is everywhere. Nearly everyone has a friend or loved one who has suffered –or is suffering—with the condition. And no matter how healthy we think we may be, the numbers just keep rising. According to the World Health Organization, cancer causes one in six deaths globally every year. 1

When it comes to types of cancers that are most lethal, lung cancer kills more people than any other, followed by colorectal, stomach and liver cancer. Despite the growing numbers, lifestyle does play a large factor in assessing risk. To decrease yours, consider the following:

  1. Tobacco. Tobacco, in any form, is dangerous. According to the World Health Organization, it’s believed to account for 22% of cancer-related deaths per year.2 If you smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting programs and smoking cessation aids that might help. And if you try to quit and fail, don’t give up, try again. Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your body is already at work repairing itself, dropping your heart rate. By one year, your coronary heart disease risk is half of a smoker’s. And by 10 years, your lung cancer risk is half of a smoker’s.3  Learn about how Combined Insurance employees quit smoking here.
  2. Excess weight. Having excess body weight is considered a carcinogen, according to the American Cancer Society4. Cancers with clear links to excess weight include cancers of the breast (in post-menopausal women), colon and rectum, endometrium, esophagus, kidney and pancreas. While it’s not yet understood why the connection exists, researchers believe extra weight may negatively affect the immune system, hormone levels and cell growth.  Losing weight, or maintaining a healthy weight, as determined by your doctor, may reduce your risk of these types of cancer, in addition to lowering risk of conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
  3. Inactivity. According to the National Cancer Institute, regular physical activity shows a promising effect on preventing cancers of the colon and breast5. New research reports a possible decrease in risk of cancers of the prostate, lung and lining of the uterus. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends adults “engage in moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five or more days of the week,” or “engage in vigorous-intensity physical activity for at least 20 minutes on three or more days of the week”.  Discuss any new exercise program with your doctor and then start slowly, working up to the CDC’s recommendations.
  4. Alcohol abuse. Alcohol is a known human carcinogen and the more a person consumes over time, the greater their risk of alcohol-related cancers like those of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, breast and colorectal area. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health6 found 3.5 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. were linked to alcohol consumption. Talk openly with your doctor about how much you drink to determine if he or she feels changes are needed.
  5. HPV infections. The National Cancer Institute describes human papillomaviruses as a group of 200 related viruses, 40 of which spread easily through sexual contact and mucous membranes.  HPV is so prevalent, the CDC predicts more than 90 percent of men and 80 percent of women, who are sexually active, will contract the disease at some point. Two types of high-risk HPVs, HPV types 16 and 18, are responsible for most HPV-caused cancers of the cervix, anus and oropharyngeal area. Abstinence and HPV vaccination before sexual activity are effective prevention measures. Condoms are not likely to provide complete protection7.

1 Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved from who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancerlink opens in a new window
2 GBD 2015 Risk Factors Collaborators. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 1990-2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. Lancet. 2016 Oct; 388 (10053):1659-1724.
3 Fact sheet about health benefits of smoking cessation. (2013, April 03). Retrieved from who.int/tobacco/quitting/benefits/en/link opens in a new window
4 Study finds rise in obesity related cancers in young adults in the U.S. (n.d.). Retrieved from pressroom.cancer.org/JemalTrendsInYoung2019link opens in a new window
5 Cancer Prevention Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/patient-prevention-overview-pdq#_199link opens in a new window
6 The American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) from the American Public Health Association (APHA) publications. (n.d.). Retrieved from ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2012.301199link opens in a new window
7 HPV and Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved from cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-fact-sheetlink opens in a new window