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Cancer Care Ontario Blog

6 lesser-known ways to reduce cancer risk

Feb 12, 2019

CCO Blog Team

Our Work 6 minute read
Lesser-known prevention tips

Many people think cancer isn’t in their power to control. They’re convinced it’s all a matter of “bad genes” — or just plain bad luck.

While it’s true you can’t change some risk factors like your age or family history, research has shown there are many things you can do to lower your cancer risk.

Quitting smoking, being physically active and eating a healthy diet, for example, have all been associated with reducing the risk of developing various types of cancer.

However, there are many other steps you can take today to prevent cancer, or find it earlier when it’s easier to treat.

Scan your skin & practise sun safety

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is a major risk factor for melanoma that is well-known. Practising sun safety (for example, seeking shade, wearing sunscreen and protective clothing) even on cool or cloudy days can help limit UVR exposure.

But did you know that people who have moles may also have a higher risk of developing melanoma? And that the risk increases if you have a higher number of them?

Although it’s common to have some moles (also called nevi), sometimes cells within the moles can change, become abnormal and develop into melanoma.

If you have a new or growing mole or growth on your skin, use the ABCDE rule to see if it could be a sign of trouble. Report any unusual moles or skin changes to your doctor or nurse practitioner.

Reduce red meat consumption

Eating healthier is good idea, but don't forget to consider the amount of red and processed meats on your plate.

Eating 100 grams (about the size of a deck of cards) a day of red meat or 50 grams a day of processed meat has been shown to increase the risk of colorectal cancer by up to 20 per cent. This may be related to several factors:

The iron in the red blood cells of red meat may promote the formation of potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds.

Cooking red meat at a high temperature can result in the release of potentially carcinogenic compounds.

Processed meats frequently contain nitrates or related compounds that increase the risk of developing tumours.

Other dietary factors - including consuming more dietary fibre, vitamin D, calcium and folic acid – may also play a role in reducing colorectal cancer risk, although more evidence is needed to determine the full effect.

Be aware of your work environment

Smoking is a well-established risk factor for lung cancer, but also consider second-hand smoke. Living with a smoker or being exposed to "passive smoking" at work can increase a non-smoker’s risk of lung cancer by 20 to 40 per cent.

You may be exposed to other substances at work that may increase lung cancer risk, such as workplace chemicals, asbestos and radon.

Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the environment. Depending on the geographic location, people who work in underground mines, subways, tunnels, construction sites, or basements without proper ventilation may be exposed.

Get regular check-ups and tell your doctor or nurse practitioner about the chemicals or substances you're exposed to at work – even if you don't have any symptoms. Also talk to your supervisor, health and safety specialist, industrial hygienist or local union representative about any workplace exposure concerns.

Check your blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, happens when the force of blood flowing through blood vessels is consistently too high. It can lead to a number of health problems, including heart attacks and strokes.

But there is also some evidence to suggest that high blood pressure may be a risk factor for kidney cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it’s important to make changes to help keep it in a healthy range, such as eating healthier and/or becoming more active. In some cases, your doctor or nurse practitioner may prescribe medications to lower blood pressure.

Maintain a healthy weight

There are many benefits to keeping a healthy body weight, from improved heart health to a decreased risk of chronic disease like diabetes – and various types of cancer.

For example, research has shown that having excess body fat may increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Even people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) who have a “normal” ratio of height and weight may be at increased risk if a greater proportion of their weight is in the form of fat. Gaining body fat as an adult may also increase the level of several hormones, including estrogen, and may stimulate cell growth that can impact breast cancer risk.

Maintaining a healthy weight can also help to reduce the risk of developing kidney cancer.

Limit alcohol intake

Alcohol is one important element of diet to consider when it comes to reducing cancer risk. Consuming alcoholic beverages can increase the risk of several types of cancer.

For breast cancer, there is no “safe limit” of alcohol consumption. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol can increase your risk.

There is some evidence suggesting that alcohol increases the level of estrogen in the blood, which can stimulate the growth of some tumours.

Research also suggests that people who regularly drink 25 grams or about two standard drinks of alcohol a day have a 20 per cent increased risk of colorectal cancer. A standard drink (one serving) is defined as:

  • one 350 ml (12 oz) bottle of 5% alcohol beer, OR
  • one 145 ml (5 oz) glass of 12% alcohol wine, OR
  • one 45 ml (1.5 oz) shot of 40% alcohol spirits.

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