Cancer

Updated 06 May 2016

Preventing cancer

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer, watching your weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and staying out of the sun are all factors that will reduce your risk of cancer.

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As the exact causes of cancer are sometimes uncertain, when it comes to preventing cancer, doctors can give broad recommendations, based on research over the last few decades. But research is ongoing in this field.

You have no control over your genetic inheritance, but there are definitely lifestyle choices you can make that will contribute to preventing cancer.  Here are a few tips from the World Health Organisation and the National Cancer Institute:

Know your history. If you know you have a family history of cancer, it is always a good idea to go for regular check-ups, as cancer caught in its early stages can be so much more effectively treated. Regular testing is essential for cancer prevention.

Try and prevent getting certain infections. Get vaccinated if possible. Infections such as viral hepatitis B and C can cause cancer of the liver and the human papilloma virus infection can lead to cervical cancer. Try to prevent infection as far as is possible.

Choose your home carefully. Environmental toxins can be carcinogenic. If possible, try to live in an area where the water and the air is clean. Areas close to industries or mining activities, or cities in countries where air pollution laws are not enforced can be dangerous for your health. Pollution of indoor air is also a risk factor when coal fires are used.

Reduce your alcohol consumption. The more you drink, the higher is your risk for certain cancers. Reducing your alcohol intake to one drink a day for women and two for men can help prevent cancer. And one drink a day for everyone over age 65.

Stop smoking. There is a proven link between the use of tobacco products and cancer. And even between exposure to second hand smoke and the development of cancer. Do whatever it takes to quit, and your cancer risk will decrease. Twenty-two percent of cancer deaths every year are due to tobacco use, the World Health Organisation explains.

Eat foods high in antioxidants. The jury is still out on whether a diet high in antioxidants (tomatoes, fruit, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, to name but a few) plays a role in preventing cancer, but it can do no harm to you to follow a diet of foods with high antioxidant content.

Watch your weight. A sedentary lifestyle and extra kilos definitely increase your risk for certain cancers. An unhealthy diet containing lots of fried and fatty foods, and cured or smoked or barbecued foods is also said to increase your risk for cancer – not just your waistline.

Stay out of the sun. If you do have to go into the sun at midday, make sure you wear long sleeves and a hat and some sunscreen. Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays can seriously increase your risk for skin cancer. Try and limit outdoor activities between 10 am and 4pm.

Get regular exercise. This helps to keep you in shape and gives all the systems of your body, such as the immune system a good workout.

Watch the medication you take. Certain medications, such as hormone supplements containing oestrogen, can increase your cancer risk. Talk to your doctor about taking an alternative, especially if the treatment is for a chronic condition.

Choose your workplace environment carefully. There are high levels of carcinogens present in some workplaces. Not all countries have or enforce legislation to protect workers. People working in bars where smoking is allowed have a high exposure to second hand smoke. Workers in the mining industry and the manufacturing industry as well as in industries where they are exposed to a wide range of chemicals on a daily basis all have an increased cancer risk. More than 40 substances in the working environment are carcinogenic to humans, says the WHO. Some workplaces may also expose people to radiation.

Read more:

What is cancer?

Types of cancer

Symptoms of cancer

 

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Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst and Head of Advocacy Magdalene Seguin. For more information, visit cansa.org.za.

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