11 Ways To Avoid Getting Cancer
First, the good news: You probably won't get cancer if you lead a healthy lifestyle.
"As many as 70% of known causes of cancers are avoidable and related to lifestyle," says Thomas A. Sellers, PhD, associate director for cancer prevention and control at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Diet, exercise, and avoidance of tobacco products are, of course, your first line of defense, but recent research has uncovered many small, surprising ways you can weave even more disease prevention into your everyday life.
Try these novel strategies and your risk of cancer could dwindle even more.
1. Filter your tap water
You'll reduce your exposure to known or suspected carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals. A new report from the President's Cancer Panel on how to reduce exposure to carcinogens suggests that home-filtered tap water is a safer bet than bottled water, whose quality often is not higher -- and in some cases is worse -- than that of municipal sources, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group. (Consumer Reports' top picks for faucet-mounted filters: Culligan, Pur Vertical, and the Brita OPFF-100.)
Store water in stainless steel or glass to avoid chemical contaminants such as BPA that can leach from plastic bottles.
2. Stop topping your gas tank
So say the EPA and the President's Cancer Panel: Pumping one last squirt of gas into your car after the nozzle clicks off can spill fuel and foil the pump's vapor recovery system, designed to keep toxic chemicals such as cancer-causing benzene out of the air, where they can come in contact with your skin or get into your lungs.
3. Load up on really green greens
Next time you're choosing salad fixings, reach for the darkest varieties. The chlorophyll that gives them their color is loaded with magnesium, which some large studies have found lowers the risk of colon cancer in women.
4. Snack on Brazil nuts
They're a stellar source of selenium, an antioxidant that lowers the risk of bladder cancer in women, according to research from Dartmouth Medical School. Other studies have found that people with high blood levels of selenium have lower rates of dying of lung cancer and colorectal cancer. Researchers think selenium not only protects cells from free radical damage but also may enhance immune function and suppress formation of blood vessels that nourish tumors.
5. Burn off your breast cancer risk
Moderate exercise such as brisk walking 2 hours a week cuts risk of breast cancer 18%. Regular workouts may lower your risks by helping you burn fat, which otherwise produces its own estrogen, a known contributor to breast cancer.
6. Skip the dry cleaner
A solvent known as perc (short for perchloroethylene) that's used in traditional dry cleaning may cause liver and kidney cancers and leukemia, according to an EPA finding backed in early 2010 by the National Academies of Science. The main dangers are to workers who handle chemicals or treated clothes using older machines, although experts have not concluded that consumers are also at increased cancer risk.
Less toxic alternatives: Hand-wash clothes with mild soap and air-dry them, spot cleaning if necessary with white vinegar.
7. Head off cell phone risks
Use your cell phone only for short calls or texts, or use a hands-free device that keeps the phone -- and the radio frequency energy it emits -- away from your head. The point is more to preempt any risk than to protect against a proven danger: Evidence that cell phones increase brain cancer risk is "neither consistent nor conclusive," says the President's Cancer Panel report. But a number of review studies suggest there's a link.
8. Eat clean foods
The President's Cancer Panel recommends buying meat free of antibiotics and added hormones, which are suspected of causing endocrine problems, including cancer. The report also advises that you purchase produce grown without pesticides and wash conventionally grown food thoroughly to remove residues. (The foods with the most pesticides: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, and blueberries. See the full list of dirtiest fruits and vegetables here.) "At least 40 known carcinogens are found in pesticides and we should absolutely try to reduce exposure," Sellers says.
9. Commit to whole grains
You know whole wheat is better for you than white bread. Here's more proof why you should switch once and for all: If you eat a lot of things with a high glycemic load -- a measurement of how quickly food raises your blood sugar -- you may run a higher risk of colorectal cancer than women who eat low-glycemic-load foods, found a Harvard Medical School study involving 38,000 women.
The problem eats are mostly white: white bread, pasta, potatoes, and sugary pastries. The low-glycemic-load stuff comes with fiber.
10. Avoid unnecessary scans
CT scans are a great diagnostic tool, but they deliver much more radiation than x-rays and may be overused, says Barton Kamen, MD, PhD, chief medical officer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In fact, researchers suggest that one-third of CT scans could be unnecessary.
High doses of radiation can trigger leukemia, so make sure scans are not repeated if you see multiple doctors, and ask if another test, such as an ultrasound or MRI, could substitute.
11. Drop 10 pounds
Being overweight or obese accounts for 20% of all cancer deaths among women and 14% among men, notes the American Cancer Society. Plus, losing excess pounds reduces the body's production of female hormones, which may protect against breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and ovarian cancer.
Even if you're not technically overweight, gaining just 10 pounds after the age of 30 increases your risk of developing breast, pancreatic, and cervical, among other cancers.