Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and even when it’s not fatal, it can be still be expensive and life-altering to treat. For this reason, doing whatever you can to lower your risk of developing cancer is essential. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to guarantee that you won’t develop cancer, especially considering the list of known carcinogens is fairly extensive and filled with common materials and products we encounter each day. That said, there are things you can do to lower your risk.
It’s currently estimated that between 90 to 95 percent of cancer deaths have their roots in lifestyle choices and your environment. Among these are some very common behaviors that could substantially increase your risk of developing a form of cancer. It’s important to remember that simply doing these behaviors or stopping them won’t guarantee or fully prevent cancer, but lowering your risk is important all the same. This is especially true when you consider that these behaviors we choose offer few health benefits or even creature comforts. While they may not be easy to quit, they certainly are worth it.
Of all the individual lifestyle choices and behaviors that are common around the world, none are perhaps as associated with cancer as smoking. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body and that if nobody smoked in the United States, one in three cancer deaths simply would not happen. That’s right, smoking doesn’t just cause lung cancer, but it can cause cancer throughout the body. These findings have been backed by a mountain of studies throughout the world, making it an undeniable risk to your health. In fact, many of these findings have been well known since the 1950s.
The CDC notes that smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body and that if nobody smoked in the United States, one in three cancer deaths simply would not happen.
The link between smoking and cancer (and other health risks!) is so strong that Medicare even covers therapy and cessation treatment to help you stop. And, if you’re enrolled in Medicare, that’s a great place to find help and quit smoking for good. There are also many non-profit organizations and programs with the mission of helping Americans give up smoking to improve their health, as well as a number of government programs to help you quit should you need it, like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline. However you plan on doing it, quitting smoking is a good idea.
Whether you’re looking to get a base tan for a summer vacation or looking for a bit of bronze because you like the look, you may enjoy tanning. You aren’t alone. Millions of Americans tan every year and the tanning industry is a $3.8 billion industry. The problem lies with the links between skin cancer and the UV light that causes tanning. UV radiation is also the most common cause of skin cancer, already one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States. While you get some UV light from simply being outside in the daylight, tanning is directly and intentionally introducing that radiation to your skin.
The CDC suggests avoiding indoor tanning due to the intense use of UV rays, which it notes can lead to cataracts and cancers of the skin and eyes.
While some level of tanning may not be as dangerous as smoking for example, any level of tanning is a sign of UV damage to your skin. There is no such thing as a base tan that protects you from sunburns. This means any tanning is a sign of skin damage, potentially increasing your chances of developing skin cancer. The CDC suggests avoiding indoor tanning due to the intense use of UV rays, which it notes can lead to cataracts and cancers of the skin and eyes. The Skin Cancer Foundation is in firm agreement with the CDC, citing a study that found that 97 percent of the participants that were diagnosed with melanoma before the age of 30 used tanning beds. This is only the tip of the iceberg of emerging studies pointing to an increased risk of skin cancer from indoor tanning.
Living a Sedentary Lifestyle
With how common the previous two habits are, it could be tempting to just stay indoors and do nothing. But that can create risks on its own! There is actually a strong link between a sedentary lifestyle and developing certain cancers. A sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of cancers in two ways: through a lack of exercise and through weight gain.
High levels of physical activity have been studied for their relationship with different cancers, and generally, a decrease in risk has been observed, notably for colon, breast, lung, and prostate cancers. For example, physical activity can reduce your risk of colon cancer by speeding up food passing through your digestive system, increasing your immune system, and decreasing insulin growth factors, which the Cancer Council notes can promote the growth of cancer cells.
High levels of physical activity have been studied for their relationship with different cancers, and generally, a decrease in risk has been observed, notably for colon, breast, lung, and prostate cancers.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain and obesity, which also has a strong link to certain cancers. The cancers with strong academic links to obesity include breast, endometrial, prostate, kidney, colon, and esophageal cancer to name a few. This could have to do with obesity causing elevated levels of insulin, which can promote the growth of cancer cells, and an increase sex steroid hormones that are linked to endometrial and post-menopausal breast cancer. Inflammation is also a common risk factor linked with both cancer and obesity. Obesity-related cancer isn’t a small concern, either. The CDC estimates that cancers associated with obesity account for up to 40 percent of cancer diagnoses in the United States.
So, how can you reduce your risk of cancer from a sedentary lifestyle? Becoming more active and exercising regularly is a good start. You may not lose a ton of weight (weight loss is a deeply personal thing that differs from person to person), but it certainly can help and combat the risks of not being active enough. Finding a healthier diet and working exercise into your schedule when it’s convenient can all help, even if you find it difficult to exercise or lose weight.
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Cancer is a scary diagnosis, and for good reason. As noted, it’s one of the leading causes of death in the United States annually, and even when the case isn’t fatal, it can be expensive and life changing. If there are any ways you can lower your risk of developing cancer, it’s advisable to do so. When you see common habits like smoking or tanning that don’t offer a ton of reasons to continue, or a tempting but ultimately unhealthy lifestyle choice like being overly sedentary, you may have a few ways you can substantially lower your risk!