30 to 50% of cancers are due to our lifestyle: smoking, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, harmful substances in the environment (work for example), excessive alcohol consumption, significant exposure to the sun… These are all factors known to play a role in the development of certain cancers.
While many questions remain about the exact influence of all these risk factors and how they interact with genetic predisposition, it is increasingly clear that we can reduce the risk of developing cancer by making lifestyle changes. These changes do not guarantee that you will not have cancer, but they do reduce the risk.
1. Quit smoking
Tobacco alone is the leading cause of cancer and is responsible for more than 25% of cancer deaths. This applies not only to lung cancer but also to many other cancers. Associated with alcohol, tobacco is particularly dangerous. It is even responsible for 10% of deaths in adults.
2. Avoid excess weight
Obesity is a relatively important risk factor for cancer of the uterus, kidney, and esophagus. There is also a suspected link between obesity and ovarian, pancreatic, and gallbladder cancer.
Being overweight also increases the risk of breast cancer in women during and after menopause. On the other hand, obesity increases the risk of colon cancer, especially in men. It is therefore obviously recommended to maintain your weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
3. Avoid energy-rich foods and sugary drinks
Foods of high energy value are mainly processed foods, high in fat and/or sugar and relatively low in nutrients and fiber. Examples: hamburgers, fries, pizza, chocolate, cookies… Some energy-rich food products, such as nuts, seeds, and some vegetable oils, contain useful nutrients and do not help increase the risk of cancer. Soft drinks with added sugar and fruit juices should also be avoided whenever possible.
4. Choose a varied diet with fruits and vegetables
By eating mainly plant foods, we can reduce our risk of cancer. Eat at least 5 servings (500 g) of fruits and vegetables a day: they are rich in vitamins and minerals, are generally low in calories, and are excellent sources of fiber. Frozen vegetables also count, as do canned or dried fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are particularly protective against cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, and lungs. The beneficial effect is probably achieved by an interaction between different substances contained in fruits and vegetables.
1 serving of fruit corresponds, for example, to:
- a medium-sized apple
- two mandarins
- a bowl of grapes, applesauce or strawberries for dessert
- a glass of citrus juice
5. Eat more bread, rice and pasta
Foods high in dietary fiber (such as whole foods, vegetables, fruits, and legumes) reduce the risk of colon cancer. One of the benefits of fiber is that it allows our digestive system to function faster. We should consume at least 25 grams of dietary fiber per day. It is recommended to consume 600-800 g of bread (wholemeal), rice, pasta, and legumes with a high fiber content every day.
6. Eat less red meat and, preferably, no processed meat.
Although the relationship between meat and cancer is still controversial, there is growing evidence that excessive consumption of red meat and processed meats increases the risk of colorectal and rectal cancer.
7. Be careful with certain cooking methods
- Avoid the formation of black edges or black crusts when preparing meat (for example, BBQ). Fat burning leads to the formation of polycyclic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and protein burning leads to the formation of so-called protein burning products, which can be carcinogenic.
- When frying red meat, it is recommended to use spices and aromatic herbs that naturally contain antioxidants, such as garlic and rosemary.
- When frying, carcinogenic substances can form if the oil or fat is heated to more than 200°C for a long time. The best temperature for frying is 175°C. It is also advisable to regularly change the frying fat and not to fry potato products and fries past a golden yellow. Do not eat fried foods more than once a week.
- Smoked foods, such as fish and meat, may increase the risk of certain cancers, such as stomach cancer.
8. Eat less salt
Excess salt increases the risk of stomach cancer (and high blood pressure). Five grams of salt per day is the maximum. Remember that many ready-made products can contain a lot of salt.
9. Be moderate with alcohol
Alcohol increases the risk of various types of cancer, including oral and esophageal cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, and colon cancer. This applies to beer, wine, and spirits. In combination with smoking, the harmful effect of alcohol is even greater. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. The norm is a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink for women.
10. Breastfeed your baby
Breastfeeding (recommended duration of at least 6 months) would protect the mother against cancer. In addition, children who have been breastfed would be better protected against obesity and overweight. This is important because overweight children often remain overweight for the rest of their lives.
11. Don’t rely on dietary supplements to protect yourself from cancer
To reduce the risk of cancer, it is better to have a balanced and varied diet rather than taking dietary supplements. No vitamins, antioxidants, or minerals have been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of cancer. Some vitamins and minerals can even be harmful if you take too much. Therefore, when taking supplements, be careful not to exceed the recommended daily dose of these substances.
12. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
Exercise, whatever it is, reduces the risk of cancer. For optimal health, scientists recommend at least 30 or even 60 minutes or more per day of moderate exercise (walking, swimming, dancing, cycling, climbing stairs, household chores like vacuuming, gardening) or at least 30 minutes of intense exercise (jogging, fast biking, aerobics, fitness, team sports like football, basketball, etc.). Also, limit the time you spend sitting down.
13. Protect your skin
Avoid overexposure to the sun and sunburn. Exposure to the sun or using a sunbed increases the risk of skin cancer, especially if you are under 30 years of age.
14. Get vaccinated
In 15-20% of cancer patients, infection with a virus is the cause of cancer development. The best-known examples are the hepatitis B virus, which can cause liver cancer, and the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. Other viruses can cause cancer. You can get vaccinated against hepatitis B and HPV.
15. Participate in cancer screening
There are ways to detect a number of cancers at an early stage, which increases the chances of recovery. Your doctor will often recommend the screening for certain cancers, especially breast cancer in women and colon cancer in men.