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Living a Cancer-Prevention Lifestyle
About 550,000 Americans die of cancer every year, and the American Cancer Society (ACS) says that at least half of these deaths in the United States could be prevented if people made better lifestyle choices and got the recommended cancer screening tests.
This would reduce the strain on the nation's health care system and it probably would help control the rising cost of health insurance. Most importantly, it would keep hundreds of thousands of people from dying, and save their loved ones from the pain of their loss.
Taking good care of yourself and getting regular screening is especially important as you age. To help you improve your odds of avoiding or surviving cancer, the ACS offers the following advice:
Breast cancer: Women should have an annual mammogram as well as a yearly breast exam performed by their doctor once they reach 40. Women of all ages should conduct a breast self-exam every month.
- Don't smoke, and if you already smoke, stop. This may be the single most important step you can take. Tobacco use contributes to more than 168,000 cancer deaths a year. It is a major cause of lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, as well as cancers of the larynx, oral cavity, throat and esophagus. Smoking also is a contributing cause to cancers of the bladder, pancreas, liver, uterine cervix, kidney, stomach, colon and rectum, and some leukemias.
- Be careful in the sun. More than 1 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year – more than cancers of the prostate, breast, lung, colon, uterus, ovaries and pancreas combined. And the incidence of skin cancer has been on the increase for the past three decades. Most skin cancers are curable, but some, such as melanoma, are extremely dangerous if they are not caught early. When you are outside, limit your exposure to the sun, especially during midday. Wear a hat to shield your face. And always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
- Maintain a healthy weight. About 90,000 cancer deaths a year could be prevented if people maintained a healthy body weight, according to the American Cancer Society. Excessive weight is a factor in cancers of the uterus, kidney, esophagus, gallbladder, colon and rectum, breast (in postmenopausal women), liver, pancreas, prostate, cervix, ovary, and stomach (in men), as well as non-Hodgkins lymphoma and multiple myeloma. The ACS says adults should do at least moderate exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes five or more days a week. Doing 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise at least five days a week may further reduce your risk of developing cancer of the breast or colon.
- Watch what you eat. Obviously, careful eating can help you control your weight. But certain foods may actually help you fight cancer, while others may be linked to the development of certain cancers. The ACS recommends that you eat at least five servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. In addition, choose whole-wheat grains. Limit your consumption of red meat, and bake, broil or poach your meat rather than frying. Cut way back on sugar, soda and other junk food.
- See your doctor regularly. An ongoing relationship with a doctor is one of your best defenses against illnesses of any sort. Get regular exams that include checking your skin for lesions.
- Follow screening recommendations. People with high risk for certain cancers should consult with their doctor, and everyone should follow the ACS screening recommendations:
Colon cancer: Starting at age 50, both men and women should follow one of these five schedules: a yearly fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT), a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, a yearly FOBT or FIT plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, a double-contrast barium enema every 5 years, or a colonoscopy every 10 years.
Cervical cancer: Women should have a regular Pap test every year, or every two years if they use the new liquid-based test, beginning about three years after they begin having intercourse or no later than age 21. Women who are 30 or older and who have had three normal Pap tests in a row can be screened every two to three years. Women age 70 or over who have had three normal tests in a row and no abnormal tests in the last 10 years may opt not to be screened. Women who have had a total hysterectomy, including removal of the cervix, also may opt not to be screened, unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or precancer.
Prostate cancer: Men should begin both prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests and digital rectal examinations on an annual basis starting at age 50. African-American men should begin testing at age 45.
For more information, talk to your doctor. You also can visit the ACS Web site.