NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Monday, February 1, 2016, 5:16 PM
Quitting smoking is the single best thing people can do to improve their health.
You blew off the New Year’s resolutions, but February presents the best chance for staying healthy: It’s Cancer Prevention Month.
Simple lifestyle changes could help ward off many cancers. But there’s a caveat: “There is no guarantee,” says Alice Bender, registered dietitian at American Institute for Cancer Research. “We all know people who do everything right – eat well, exercise and they get cancer. What you are doing is lowering your risk, lowering the odds that you will get cancer.”
If everyone followed these guidelines, we could prevent about 340,000 cases of cancer a year,” she says. That would be about one-third of the new cases reported annually.
That’s the simple answer but anyone who has ever tried to quit knows there’s nothing simple about it.
“Get help if you need it,” says Colleen Doyle, managing director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. “Social support is very helpful. Let your friends and family know you are trying to quit. And truly if you are a smoker, quitting is the most important thing you can do for your health.”
Maintaining a healthy weight is critical in fighting many cancers and after smoking, is the next most important step in being healthy.
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
“Outside of not smoking, being at a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to not be at a high cancer risk,” Bender says. “The higher the BMI (Body Mass Index), the greater the risk for these cancers: colorectal, post-menopausal breast, ovarian, endometrial, esophageal – just one type, but the more common one – liver, kidney, gallbladder, pancreatic and advanced prostate.”
If people are going to drink, doctors advise limiting drinks to one per day for women and to two for men.
Based on multiple studies, The National Cancer Institute warns that there is a definite link between drinking alcohol and certain types of cancer: head and neck, particularly the throat and the voice box, esophageal, liver, breast and colorectal.
“People say everything causes cancer,” Doyle says. “Everything does not cause cancer, but alcohol is something that does.”
If people are going to drink, The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society urge moderation. Men should be capped at two drinks a day and women at one.
Make sure your diet is heavy on vegetables and fruit, whole grains and seeds and keep lean meats to a minimum in the fight against cancer.
WATCH WHAT YOU EAT
Make it plant-based, Bender says. “Most of your plate should be filled with plant foods: whole grains, seeds, vegetables, fruit and then one-third or less of the plate leave for animal foods.
Experts are not saying give up on all meat, but meat should be lean, eaten in small portions and not too frequently, Doyle says.
To stay healthy, exercise for at least half an hour daily and try to not sit for long stretches at a time.
“Our recommendation is to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day,” Bender says. “It could be a good walk, bicycling or you could do dancing — anything that gets your heart rate up so you are working a little bit hard but can still talk. Avoid being sedentary. Try to not sit around too much. Try to get up and take a break every 30 to 60 minutes.”
When we should get screened keep changing, with the most recent government guidelines recommending regular mammograms for women over 50. But the American Cancer Society recommends they start at 45. With all screenings, ask your doctor what is safest for you.
CHECK WITH DOCTOR ABOUT SCREENINGS
Colonoscopies are generally recommended at 50.
And mammograms for women over 50, according to the government’s latest guidelines. Though The American Cancer Society recommends regularly scheduled mammograms at 45.
Even with experts disagreeing on the starting age – and it can be considerably lower depending on family history – the important advice is: check with your physician.
Prostate screening is also a controversial issue and there is no agreement on the benefits of the testing. Some physicians say regular screening means the cancer will be found early and can be treated.
Others argue that because prostate cancer is usually a slow growing cancer that side effects from treatments can outweigh benefits, making this another issue people need to discuss with their doctors.
Wear sunscreen, reapply it after swimming, and throughout the day, and be sure to put it on your children to help prevent skin cancer.
STAY SAFE IN THE SUN
“Wear sunscreen, particularly if out in peak hours of 10 to 4,” says Colleen Doyle, managing director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. “Wear hats. Cover up as best you can.”
She also added this tip for women: “Those lotions you are putting on to keep your skin soft, get one with sunscreen in it.”
“Don’t think you have put it one time and are safe in that regard,” she says. “And for all of us who are parents, be sure you are covering your kids.”
The HPV vaccine is known to stop the human papillomavirus and may help prevent a number of cancers.
GET KIDS VACCINATED AGAINST HPV
This vaccination, administered when children are between nine and 13, wards off the human papillomavirus (HPV).
“It is important to make sure kids get all of their recommended vaccinations including HPV,” says Sherrie Wallington, an oncology professor at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. “What parents do today may help prevent HPV-related cancer in the future.”
These are cancers of the head, neck, cervix, anus and penis. The vaccine is not required in schools and most parents in the United States have not had their children inoculated.
It’s been tested on hundreds of thousands of patients and doctors maintain is is very safe and effective. Doctors recommend starting the series of three shots as early as nine, the vaccine is still effective is women get it until age 26 and men until age 21.