Get Screened Blog

Cancer Prevention: What you can control and what you can't


Heart disease and cancer have one huge similarity: healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risk for both. While people tend to consider cancer a stroke of bad luck and unpreventable, that might not be true. According to a couple of new studies, certain types of cancer are preventable, similar to how we can prevent heart disease.

A recent study broke down disease risk factors into four categories: smoking, drinking, obesity and exercise. People with "low risk" in each category could, overall, prevent about 30% of cancer. However, certain types of cancer were more preventable than others, like lung cancer: healthy behaviors could have prevented about 80% of lung cancer cases, while healthy behaviors prevented only 30% of all colon cancer cases. Breast cancer was the least preventable, with only 4% prevented by healthy behavior.

So what can't you control?

  • Your genetics and family history. If you have a family history of colon cancer, or any other type of cancer, you have a higher risk for cancer.
  • Age. The older you are, the greater you are at risk for colon cancer. 
  • How your cells divide. A recent study showed organs whose cells divide more frequently have greater incidence for cancer. 

What can you do to help reduce your risk for cancer? Well, the study lays out general guidelines for being "low risk" in each of the four categories, smoking, drinking, obesity and exercise. They're not ridiculously narrow guidelines, either:

  • Quit smoking or don't smoke at all. If you quit smoking five years ago, you're still in the "low risk" category.
  • Keep your alcohol consumption to a drink a day for women and two for men. In fact, this is a top tip for preventing colon cancer specifically.
  • Have a BMI between 18.5 and 27.5. 27.5 is below obese, while 25 is below overweight. Also, your BMI is linked with how well you eat. Diet is tied to colon cancer, so eating better reduces your risk.
  • Exercise! Walk 150 minutes a week or run 75 minutes a week. 

It is important to stress that getting cancer isn't your fault. Cancer is caused by a mix of factors largely out of your control. However, it is important to know that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the average person's overall risk. Most importantly, getting screened for colon cancer helps reduce your risk as well.

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