In Honor of National Cancer Prevention Month: Lifestyle Changes that Aid in Cancer Prevention

February 27, 2019Ana Maria Lopez

When you think of cancer prevention, you may believe there isn’t much you can do to lower your risk. While the primary risk factor for most cancers is genetics, a factor we have no control over, there are many modifiable risk factors we can change through a healthier lifestyle.

Dr. Ana Maria López, Chief of Cancer Services at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township and Medical Director of the Medical Oncology & Infusion Suite, advises what lifestyle changes we should make to reduce our cancer risk.

“Experts believe that five to 15 percent of cancers are hereditary. So, from a prevention standpoint, knowing your family history is very important,” Dr. López explained. “However, there is a large percentage – almost two thirds – of cancers that could be related to lifestyle factors.”

These potentially modifiable lifestyle factors include:

  • Smoking – Smoking doesn’t only impact the lungs, but it also increases the risk for many other cancers, including bladder, cervical and breast. Inhalation is one of the most efficient ways to get a drug throughout the body. So, smoking spreads toxic carcinogens very quickly. If you smoke, there are many resources available to help you quit, including our Smoking Cessation Support Groups and the New Jersey Quitline:  1-866-NJSTOPS (657-8677).
  • Nutrition – It’s okay to start small. Simply add a salad a day to your diet. Overtime, work towards a more plant-based diet. Cruciferous vegetables, or “greens,” are especially beneficial because they are cancer-fighting agents. Try to make either a third or a half of your plate vegetables. A quarter of the plate should then be protein. In terms of carbohydrates, make sure they are complex.
  • Physical Activity – More and more studies are showing that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for cancer. Understand that physical activity does not mean joining a gym; it doesn’t have to make you uncomfortable. There are countless small steps to become more active in your daily life. If you spend a lot of time watching your grandkids, be actively engaged in what they are doing. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther away from the store’s entrance. If you would like to join a gym, it helps to find a partner to motivate you.
  • Stress Reduction – So many of us are connected to our devices and not present and aware of our surroundings. This can take a serious toll on our stress levels. Try to stop what you’re doing, take a break from the devices, do some breathing exercises and really look around you. Stress reduction may also help you get a better, healthier sleep.

“Keep in mind that it can take six to eight weeks to form a new habit, especially involving physical activity,” Dr. López said. “Once you start to feel better, it gets easier to stick with it.”

In addition to being proactive through these lifestyle changes, it’s also essential to consider cancer screening, if you’re at-risk.

“Screening often leads to early detection,” continued Dr. López, “We know for most cancers, early detection will result in better, long-term outcomes. You will have a much better chance of survival.”

“Know your family history, know your risks and talk with your physician,” Dr. López said. “Do what you can to live as healthily as possible. Lifestyle changes aren’t always easy, but they’re incredibly powerful.”