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Chances are you've read the newspaper headlines. Everything from berries to vitamin D may help prevent certain cancers.


What should you do? It can be difficult to maneuver through the maze of information about what does and what does not cause, or prevent, cancer.

While these confusing headlines suggest that certain lifestyle changes may help thwart cancer, studies have shown that the best way to combat the disease is through proper nutrition, regular exercise and regularly scheduled checkups. The good news is that you can take these simple steps toward living healthy and reducing your risk of cancer today.

Even though some cancers are hereditary and you can't change your genetic makeup, you can take precautions and avoid the things in our life that are linked to certain cancers, says Patrick Carter, M.D., Chief of the Family Medicine Department at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. Steps like staying out of direct sunlight, not smoking and walking everyday can help reduce your risk.

Healthy Eating a Plus

When your mother told you to eat your vegetables, she was right. Dr. Carter says when you couple that with fruit, fiber and low-fat, low-salt foods, you could reduce your incidence of cancers like colorectal, esophageal, prostate, breast and lung.

There is no one food that can prevent your risk of cancer, says Dr. Carter. A balanced diet should be just that. You should eat a wide variety of foods so you can benefit from important nutrients your body needs to function.

According to the American Cancer Society, its estimated that as many as one third of the 550,000 cancer deaths that occur each year in the U.S. had unhealthy diet and low physical activity as contributing factors.

About one-third of cancers are related to nutrition, adds Dr. Carter. Add lean cuts of meat and five servings of fruits and vegetables to your diet every day, particularly tomatoes and green leafy vegetables like broccoli and cabbage.

Exercise an Ally

Healthy eating is important for a healthy lifestyle. But so is regular exercise. According to the National Cancer Institute, physical activity can reduce your risk of colon cancer by half.

A truly healthy lifestyle includes at least 30 minutes of exercise three days a week to help maintain optimal weight, says Dr. Carter. Obesity has been linked to cancers of the colon, prostate, uterus, ovaries and breast not to mention heart disease which underscores the importance of physical fitness as a way to prevent disease in general.

You can incorporate exercise in your daily routine. Performing yard work, salsa dancing and taking brisk walks through your neighborhood are ideal and easy ways to help you avoid obesity and maintain your weight. Be sure to consult your physician before taking on a strenuous workout program, adds Dr. Carter.

Don't Light Up

Its no secret that smoking and tobacco chewing have been connected to cancer, especially of the lung. Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer in both men and women, and its almost always blamed on cigarette smoking.

If you are a smoker, consider kicking the habit to reduce your risk of cancers of the larynx, lung, esophagus, mouth and stomach, says Dr. Carter. Ask your doctor about smoking cessation programs that can help you down the path to a tobacco-free lifestyle.

Steer Clear of the Sun

The most common of all cancers, skin cancer is on the rise. More than 1 million skin cancers are diagnosed in the U.S., surpassing cancers of the prostate, breast, lung, colon, uterus, ovaries and pancreas combined. The vast majority of skin cancers are triggered by excessive exposure to the suns harsh ultraviolet rays.

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from skin cancer and even catch it and treat it early on.

Dr. Carter recommends the following tips to help lower your risk of skin cancer:

  • Avoid being outdoors in sunlight for long periods of time, especially mid-day when ultraviolet light is most intense.
  • Wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Be sure to reapply it every two hours.
  • Wear sunglasses that absorb at least 99 percent of ultraviolet rays.

Skin cancer, particularly melanoma, can be life-threatening if left unchecked. Pay attention to your body's warning signs, says Dr. Carter. Don't wait for a growing mole or other change in your skin to turn into cancer. See a dermatologist if you suspect skin cancer before its too late.

Get a Physical

A physical exam administered by your primary care provider is not only a good time to catch up on much-needed immunizations, but also to discuss reducing your risk of cancer. By having regular screenings such as a PSA test or mammogram, you can take a proactive approach to cancer prevention.

Its always a good idea to do self exams like a breast checkup. Pay attention to the signs, and if you notice any thing that's different, tell your doctor.

Identifying some cancers is directly associated with routine screenings. For example, cervical cancer can usually be detected with a well woman checkup performed with a Pap test. Other cancers, such as liver cancer which is caused by hepatitis B, can be prevented with vaccinations.

A Healthier Lifestyle, a Healthier You

Nearly half of all cancers can be prevented by making changes to your everyday lifestyle. In most cases, good health is within our reach. Its mainly about choices, says Dr. Carter. By adopting a healthier lifestyle, you will be making one of the best decisions in your life for life.