Habits that experts and doctors say could lead to cancer

 

Peter Dazeley/Royalty-free/Getty Images

Habits That Experts and Doctors Say Could Lead to Cancer

Habits That Experts and Doctors Say Could Lead to Cancer

Changing your ways can make all the difference
Habits that experts and doctors say could lead to cancer

 

Peter Dazeley/Royalty-free/Getty Images

Even if you think you’ve heard it all before when it comes to cancer prevention, it’s time to think again. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40% of men and women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime.

Though it’s a concerning statistic, there are a number of things you can do to help reduce the risk, according to Dr. Rushir Choksi, a medical oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh.

“If people have a strong family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, definitely talk to their doctor about getting tested for genetic testing,” he said. “If they have a strong family history of pancreatic cancer or colon cancer, I would talk to their physician about that."

Choksi also suggests getting regular screenings and limiting exposure to certain harmful chemicals like glyphosate, an herbicide found in many weedkillers, along with benzene, found most commonly in secondhand smoke and gas.

Though some factors like age and genetics are uncontrollable, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of developing the disease, starting with breaking some of these bad habits. 

Soaking up the sun

Soaking up the sun

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Back in the day, everyone used baby oil and laid out on the beach in order to achieve that golden, enviable tan. With skin cancer currently the most common cancer in the U.S., that’s a habit to ditch. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lives.

It is best to avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you can’t, wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses. Also make sure to apply enough sunscreen to cover all your exposed skin. For full coverage, most adults need to use enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass. And applying once just isn’t enough. If you’re outside longer than two hours, you’ll need to reapply, as well as after swimming, exercising or sweating.

Finally, the American Academy of Dermatology says that like UV sun exposure, tanning salons cause skin damage and premature aging and increase the risk of all skin cancers, including melanoma.

Tobacco and smoking

Tobacco and smoking

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking harms almost every single organ in the body and leads to both disease and disability. It’s also the leading cause of preventable death. Currently, more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by this unhealthy habit, including heart disease, stroke, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, along with a host of cancers like lung, mouth, throat, blood, bladder, esophagus and pancreas.

Because tobacco is highly addictive, quitting can be difficult. Resources are available to help, including counseling, nicotine patches and gum, smokefree apps for your smartphone and medications to help curb cravings.

Skipping your mammogram

Skipping your mammogram

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Life gets busy and sometimes things like making appointments end up falling through the cracks. But it’s important not to fall behind on getting a mammogram. Aside from certain skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. There are any number of contributing factors to getting cancer, including family history and inherited DNA mutations like the BRCA genes, as well as alcohol use, diet and exercise.

Regardless of the cause, however, early detection is critical. According to the American Cancer Society, “Breast cancer that’s found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully. And getting regular screening tests is the most reliable way to find breast cancer early.” The American Cancer Society recommends that women between the ages of 45 and 54 get a mammogram every year and women at high risk should have screenings every year starting at the age of 30.

If you’re unsure of your risk or if you notice any unusual symptoms, contact your doctor.

Heavy drinking

Heavy drinking

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The Mayo Clinic defines drinking in moderation as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. If you’re having more than that, it could be considered high-risk or heavy drinking, which poses any number of possible health risks including damage to the liver, heart disease and stroke. Heavy or binge drinking is also associated with a long list of cancers including mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, stomach and pancreas.

And, according to the American Cancer Society, it’s also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, with women who consume two to three drinks daily showing a 20% greater risk of breast cancer than those who don’t.

Ignoring household dangers

Ignoring household dangers

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It’s easy to overlook cleaning dirty places in your house, but when was the last time you had your home tested for radon? An odorless, radioactive gas, radon is found in soil and rock and, depending on your geographic location, can be found in elevated amounts in the air, water and, unfortunately, homes.

Prolonged exposure to the gas can be harmful and, according to the American Cancer Society, it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Though you can’t avoid radon entirely, you can check your home for unsafe levels (or have it tested by a professional) and make modifications if needed.

Avoiding the big ‘C’ and other awkward tests

Avoiding the big ‘C’ and other awkward tests

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It’s embarrassing and uncomfortable, which is why many people avoid getting a colonoscopy. But as the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., colorectal cancer is serious business and so is getting screened for it. Colonoscopies can help detect polyps and abnormal growths in the colon and when it comes to cancer, early detection is essential. People of average risk should start screening at the age of 45 (sooner if there’s a personal or family history of the disease) and if a colonoscopy isn’t possible, other tests are available, so talk to your doctor to learn more about them.

Pap smears for women and prostate exams for men are also important. If you’re seeing your primary health care physician or gynecologist regularly, both tests come with annual physicals. If you’re not, however, pick up the phone. Both prostate and cervical cancers can be treated when detected early.

Taking a pass on oral hygiene

Taking a pass on oral hygiene

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Only four out of 10 Americans floss daily, according to Delta Dental. And 20% never floss at all. Not only is this healthy habit good for your teeth and gums (friends, coworkers and relatives will thank you too), but it also just might help reduce the risk of certain cancers. According to the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology, evidence suggests that chronic inflammation and infections associated with periodontitis can potentially increase the risk of a variety of cancers, including oral cancer.

Another study published on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website suggests that men with a history of periodontal disease could be at increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Though further research is needed to establish a link between gum disease and cancer, it can’t hurt to pick up the floss tonight.

Overindulging

Overindulging

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Overindulgence in guilty-pleasure foods can be a problem because it can lead to obesity, which can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

According to the National Cancer Institute, people who are obese have an increased risk of many different types of cancer including breast (for post-menopausal women), colon, rectum, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gallbladder and endometrium (lining of the uterus). Weight management, exercise and eating some heart-healthy foods are all good habits to get into. Being active can also help control weight and, subsequently, reduce cancer risk. It can also help improve hormone levels and have a positive impact on your immune system.

It doesn’t have to involve a serious workout at the gym either. Engaging in some kind of activity can be as easy as taking a brisk walk outside, housework or gardening. But if you’re looking to really break a sweat, here are the 50 best exercises for weight loss.

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