August 22, 2014
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Cutting Your Cancer Risk

Three strikes: smoking, drinking, and obesity

Three strikes: smoking, drinking, and obesity

According to the Harvard study, smoking, drinking, and obesity are the three biggest risk factors affecting people in high-income countries like Canada. Here are some strategies to help you fight the battle against cancer on these three fronts.

Smoking

Lighting up may increase your risk of developing a number of cancers, including lung, bladder, kidney, colorectal, pancreatic, breast, among others. Even if you are just an occasional smoker, you may still be significantly increasing your risk of developing cancer.

Here are some tips for butting out:

  • Set a quit date and stick to it.
  • Tell others about your plan. If they know you are trying to quit, friends who smoke may be less likely to offer you a cigarette or invite you on a smoke break.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about medications that can help you quit.
  • Learn your smoking triggers, then eliminate, reduce, or change those smoking-related routines, such as an after-work drink or coffee breaks, to weaken the association.
  • If you are craving a cigarette, set a time limit, say 20 minutes, and see if the craving passes before you give in.

Drinking

For many people, drinking in moderation (2 drinks per day for men or 1 drink per day for women) isn't considered a problem, but excessive drinking can increase your risk of gastrointestinal, oral, esophageal, liver, breast, and other cancers.

Here's how to keep your alcohol consumption under control:

  • Talk to your doctor about whether alcohol is appropriate for you, given your existing risk factors for cancer, medications you may be taking, and other factors.
  • At parties, alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated and limit the total amount of alcohol you consume.
  • Know what makes a serving. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
  • Avoid binge drinking - 3 or more drinks on a single occasion for women and 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for men.
  • Recognize the signs of problem drinking. These include drinking in secret, episodes of blacking out, feeling a "need" to drink, and requiring increasing amounts of alcohol to feel the effects of alcohol. If you experience these signs, talk to your doctor.

Overweight and obesity

If you are overweight or obese, you are carrying more than just extra pounds - you're also carrying an increased risk of developing a number of different cancers, including breast, cervical, gallbladder, and ovarian cancer for women, and colorectal and prostate cancer for men. In addition to increasing your risk, the excess weight may also make it more difficult to test for some cancers, increasing the chance that they may spread before being caught.

Here are some tips for keeping your weight under control:

  • Be familiar with what appropriate serving sizes look like. Measure out portions at first and from time to time. If your servings are too large, you may inadvertently be consuming extra calories.
  • Swap full-fat meat and dairy products for lower-fat alternatives. If the taste of low-fat products takes some getting used to, gradually introduce them into your diet.
  • Allow yourself the occasional indulgence. If you deprive yourself all the time, you may be more tempted to binge. But keep treats small.
  • Exercise! If you don't have time for a long workout, break up your exercise into sessions that are no less than 10 minutes each. Accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity over the course of the week. You can do many different types of activity, from brisk walking to jogging to cycling. The more active you are, the more health benefits you'll see.
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