Cancer experts believe that nearly 80 percent of cancer cases may be preventable through lifestyle changes — such as exercise, diet and smoking habits. Research, much of it conducted by the Hutchinson Center, has put the power to reduce cancer risk in your hands with simple tips you can incorporate into your daily routine. Here are some useful examples our researchers recommend.
More than two dozen studies have shown that women who exercise have a 30 percent to 40 percent lower risk of breast cancer than their sedentary friends, and estrogen seems to play a key role. Women with high blood-estrogen levels have increased risk for breast cancer. Since exercise lowers blood estrogen, it helps lower a woman's breast-cancer risk. Exercise also reduces other cancer-growth factors such as insulin, and it plays a role in improving the body's immune function. With more than 200,000 new breast-cancer cases reported in the United States each year, preventing cancer through exercise is one of the best ways a woman can take charge of her health.
Exercise also plays a dramatic role in preventing colon cancer. Nearly 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year, and more than 55,000 die from the disease. More than three-dozen studies show exercisers have half the risk of colon cancer compared to sedentary people, and the beneficial effects are seen in both men and women, although the effect is greater in men.
Even moderate activity can be critically important in helping menopausal women reduce their risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic ailments. Our researchers have found that exercise reduces fat deep in the abdomen, a hidden risk factor because it can raise insulin levels, which promotes the growth of cancer cells as well as cholesterol levels. Most American women gain 1 to 2 pounds on average every year, and that adds up to dangerous levels over a lifetime. The beauty of exercise as a method to reduce fat and chronic disease is that it can be done by most women at low cost and with low risk of side effects. It's never too late to enjoy the health benefits of exercise!
Eating five daily servings of fruits and vegetables helps you feel healthy, look better and lowers your risk of cancer and other serious diseases. Fruits and vegetables give you energy, yet won't weigh you down like heavy snacks. Vitamin C has chemicals that block some cancer-causing compounds inside your gut. Eating oranges, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupe and blueberries can provide lots of vitamin C. Vitamin A repairs cell damage in your body that can lead to cancer and other diseases. Eat color-rich fruits and vegetables such as leafy greens, apricots, blueberries, cantaloupe, winter squash and sweet potatoes.
Consuming just three servings of vegetables each day — especially cruciferous ones like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts — cuts the risk of prostate cancer by almost half, according to Hutchinson Center scientists. While all vegetables help decrease risk, cruciferous vegetables are the heavyweights. It's believed that vegetables protect against cancer because they contain a wide variety of phytochemicals; many of these increase enzyme activity to detoxify cancer-promoting compounds in the body. To add more vegetables to your routine, try drinking vegetable juice or adding vegetables to your eggs at breakfast. A salad or vegetable soup is a good lunch option. Raw vegetables make easy, quick snacks. For dinner, add extra vegetables to pasta dishes and casseroles.
Men diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer may benefit from a diet low in fat. Hutchinson Center findings showed that while a fat-laden diet may not cause prostate cancer, it may fuel its progression from early to advanced disease. Low-fat diets reduce blood levels of male hormones like testosterone. Prostate growth — and perhaps, prostate cancer — is fueled by male hormones. Reading food labels and learning the fat content of your favorite foods are great ways to increase awareness of your fat intake. Many restaurants provide nutritional summaries on their Web sites or if asked.
Smoking isn't just a factor in lung cancer. Middle-aged men who are long-term, heavy smokers (at least a pack a day) face twice the risk of developing more aggressive forms of prostate cancer than men who have never smoked, according to a Hutchinson Center study. Our researchers also found that long-term, heavy smoking may increase breast-cancer risk by up to 40 percent. On the positive side, quitting smoking pays off. While the risk of developing cancer increases with each year smoked, the risk declines to near that of nonsmokers within about 10 years of quitting.
Our researchers found that men who drank four to eight 4-ounce glasses of red wine weekly reduced their risk of prostate cancer by 50 percent. They also experienced about a 60 percent lower incidence of the more aggressive types of this cancer. Scientists believe resveratrol, a compound in the skins of red grapes that is released into the wine during the fermentation process, acts as an antioxidant, helping to sweep cancer-causing free radicals from the body. Resveratrol is abundant in red wine but not in red grape juice, so for men who already drink alcohol, the results of this study suggest that they may want to choose red wine — in moderation. Excessive alcohol use can have adverse effects on health ranging from increased overall cancer risk to accidental injury.