Even though we can’t change some things about cancer, like the genes we were born with, up to half of all cancers can be stopped. This means that how we live early in life can have a big effect on how likely we are to get cancer later in life.
Here are some of the most important changes you can make to your life right now to lower your risk of getting cancer.
This article is part of a series called “Quarter Life” that talks about issues that people in their 20s and 30s face. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of our mental health to the excitement of starting a family, getting a pet, or just making friends as an adult. This series of articles looks at the questions we have about this time in our lives and gives us answers.
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1. Don’t smoke
Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer and 14 other types of cancer, including cancer of the mouth and throat.
Even though young people are less likely to smoke now, in part because vaping is so popular, research shows that nine out of ten regular smokers start before they turn 25. Don’t smoke, or quit if you do, if you want to cut your risk of many types of cancer by a lot.
Even though vaping is less dangerous than smoking, its long-term effects have not yet been looked into. Because of this, Cancer Research UK says that the only way to quit smoking is to use e-cigarettes. We also don’t know much about how smoking cannabis affects the risk of cancer, though there is some evidence of a small link between cannabis use and a higher risk of testicular cancer. Until more is known, it might be best to stay away from both.
2. Practice safe sex
The virus that causes genital warts is called HPV (human papillomavirus). It is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world. It can also cause many types of cancer, including cancer of the cervix, penis, mouth, and throat.
Cancers caused by HPV are most common in young people. Only in the UK, cervical cancer is most often found in women between the ages of 30 and 34. People also think that the recent rise in oral cancers in young men could be caused by the number of young men who have HPV.
Getting an HPV vaccine and having safe sex will protect you from getting the virus. For women, a cervical screening test (also called a “smear test”) is important because it can find an HPV infection before it can cause cancer. Since this is the case, women between the ages of 25 and 64 should try to get checked every five years.
3. Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese has been linked to a higher risk of 13 different types of cancer, including those of the intestine, breast, uterus, and pancreas. When the body has too much fat, it becomes inflamed. This makes tumors grow and helps cancer cells divide. Fat cells also make the hormone estrogen, which can cause breast and uterine tumors to grow. Because of this, women are more at risk of getting cancer than men. More and more people, especially young adults, are getting cancers that are linked to being overweight or obese.
Not only that but having a bad diet can also make you more likely to get cancer. For example, bowel cancer is more likely to happen if you eat a lot of red and processed meat. On the other hand, there is more and more evidence that eating a healthy, well-balanced diet with fibre and a variety of fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of getting several types of cancer.
Eating the right foods and trying to stay at a healthy weight can help lower your risk of getting many types of cancer as you get older.
4. Drink less
It is well known that drinking alcohol makes you more likely to get liver, breast, and esophageal cancers, among others. Even though the risk goes up with how much you drink, it is also thought that even moderate drinking adds 100,000 cases of cancer to the global burden of cancer each year. Even though the effects of binge drinking haven’t been studied in depth, one study suggests that moderate drinkers who regularly binge drink are up to 50% more likely to get breast cancer. Smoking while drinking alcohol can also make smoking more likely to cause cancer.
Your chance of getting cancer will go down if you cut back on how much you drink or stop drinking all together. The NHS says that you shouldn’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, which is about 6 pints or 10 small glasses of wine. They also say that you should try to go a few days each week without drinking.
5. Use sunscreen
One of the most common types of cancer found in people under 40 is skin cancer. In the last few decades, it has also become more common.
UV rays, which can come from the sun or tanning beds, are the main cause of skin cancer. Since the effects of UV radiation build up over time, the face and other areas of skin that get the most sun are more likely to get skin cancer. In addition to these long-term effects, getting a bad sunburn when you are young can make it more likely that you will get the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
When you go out in the sun, you can protect yourself from skin cancer by putting on sunscreen. This means wearing hats, covering up with long clothes, and putting on sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 rating. Keep in mind, though, that no sunscreen can protect you 100%. This is very important for people who are more likely to get skin cancer, like those who have fair skin and freckle easily.
The best ways to lower your risk of many kinds of cancer are also the best ways to improve your health as a whole. You can also improve your overall health and fitness and protect yourself from cancer by staying active and staying away from polluted air.
Senior Lecturer at the University of Lancaster, Sarah Allinson.