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March 29, 2024

Can You Really Lower Your Cancer Risk? with Rose Ashline, RDN, LDN

by Rose Ashline, RDN, LDN

April is Cancer Control Month, which was started in the 1940s to bring awareness to the overall impact this diagnosis has on people with cancer and the people close to them.  In the United States, 1 out of every 2 men and 1 out of every 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime.  This means that we have all known someone who has battled cancer and have been in some way affected by their journey.  The biggest aim of Cancer Control Month is to try to prevent more people from having to live with cancer.  Diet and lifestyle factors are linked to many types of cancers including mouth, stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, lung and breast.  The good news is that there are changes we can make today that will help reduce our risk of developing cancer in the future!

Cancer Risk Prevention

When it comes to lowering our risk of developing cancer in the body, we want to focus on things that we have control over.  Lifestyle and dietary changes are ways that we can improve our overall health and well-being, as well as reduce our risk for several types of cancer.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Cancer Risk

Having a healthy body size

Overweight and obesity is associated with an increased risk of 13 different types of cancer including liver, stomach, kidney, pancreatic, colon and breast.  The larger your body size, the higher the risk of developing cancer.  As little as a 5% decrease in your current body weight if you are overweight or obese has been associated with reduced risk of developing cancer.

Quit smoking

Smoking is the leading cause of cancer and cancer death in the US.   Reach out to your primary care provider or some other free resources like quitassist or for support.  Smoking is a major preventable cause of cancer.  The longer and more frequently a person smokes, the greater their risk is. It increases the risk of lung cancer by about 40-fold.  The good news is that if you quit, after 5 years of not smoking the risk for several cancers cuts in half, and by 20 years after quitting, the risk falls to that of a nonsmoker.

Reduce alcohol intake

Alcohol is linked to several types of cancer.  Alcohol is the main diet-related risk factor associated with liver cancer.  Moderate to heavy consumption of alcohol is associated with higher rates of cancer.  Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption is an intake greater than 3 drinks per day.  In the US, current reasonable alcohol intake guidelines recommend no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.  A sensible approach to reduce cancer risk is to aim to have several alcohol-free days each week and limit the number of drinks you have when you do drink.

Sit less and move more

For every 2 hours each day that we spend sitting we have a small increased risk of certain types of cancer.  Being more physically active helps reduce the overall cancer risk.  Exercise reduces the risk of developing colon cancer by about 35% when people were active for at least 30 to 60 minutes, at least 5 days per week.  Any way that you move your body is beneficial, but the most benefits come from the more intensely you exercise.  Intensity just means getting your heart and breathing rate higher than normal and your muscles are working harder than they typically would.

How to Eat to Reduce Cancer Risk

Include more fiber-rich foods in your diet

Fruit and vegetables are great sources of fiber and are also full of antioxidants which may have a protective effect against cancer.  These foods are also low in calories so help reduce overall body size.  There is some evidence that a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables is a risk factor for developing certain cancers, and that diets low in fiber are associated with higher cancer risk.  Choose a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash, legumes, and nuts and seeds to add in more fiber into your diet.

Limit processed foods

The World Health Organization classified processed meats to be cancer-causing in 2015.  A diet high in processed or “fast-food” has also been associated with increased cancer risk.  Substituting just 10% of foods that you

Limit red meat

Red meat gives our body protein and several vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to our health; however too much red meat is associated with increased risk of cancers, especially breast and colon cancer.  An intake of 3.5 oz of red meat daily was associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.  Limiting red meat to once or twice a week and choosing leaner proteins like poultry, fish or beans the other days will help reduce risk.

Get enough vitamin D

Normal vitamin D levels are linked to lower risk of cancer.  Spending most of our time indoors also puts us at risk for lower vitamin D levels.  Sources of vitamin D are direct exposure to sunlight, oily fish such as salmon and tuna, eggs, dairy foods, and fortified cereals.  Ask your doctor if a vitamin D supplement is appropriate for you.

If you would like to learn more or are wondering how best to go about making some of these diet and lifestyle changes work for you, consider reaching out for a one-on-one session with an Avance Care registered dietitian.  Please visit our website for more information, or call (919) 237-1337, option 4 to speak to a nutrition coordinator and set up an initial appointment.


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