Habits That Help You Become “Cancer-Proof” — Eat This Not That

According to the World Health Organization, 30-50% of all cancer cases are preventable. “We will always need good treatments,” says Timothy Rebbeck, PhD, the Vincent L. Gregory, Jr. Professor of Cancer Prevention at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and director of the School’s Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention. “But we can’t treat our way out of this problem. In order to make a dent in a public health sense, we must prevent cancer.” Here are five science-backed ways to make yourself cancer-proof, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.

mature couple jogging outdoors
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Exercise is an important factor in cancer prevention, according to experts. “Changing your diet to decrease your risk of developing cancer is a good idea but starting an exercise program might also be helpful,” says Stanford Medicine. “Exercise is an important part of any weight loss program. Being overweight and inactive could be hazardous to your health. Some studies on obese subjects are showing that being overweight may place you at risk of developing cancers of the prostate, cervix, kidney, breast, endometrium, liver, rectum, ovary, esophagus, colon, prostate, and gallbladder. The exact mechanism behind this increased risk of cancer for overweight people is unknown.”

Body fat analysis with electronic bioelectrical impedance scale at weight loss clinic.
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Maintaining a healthy weight is key in helping prevent cancer. “We used to think fat cells were just for storing energy,” says Erma Levy, clinical dietician at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “But fat cells are actually metabolically active. That means they produce hormones and other chemicals that affect your body’s immune system and its ability to fight off disease.”

woman smears face sunscreen at the beach for protection
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Sunscreen or sunblock can help prevent cancer—and experts recommend wearing it no matter what the weather. “Often people skip the sunscreen when they’re going skiing or heading out in the snow,” says Sapna Patel, MD. “But they’re actually getting hit by the sun’s rays more than once. Once from the sun and then when the sun’s rays bounce off the snow. The same is true on a cloudy day at the beach. You can get hit by the sun’s rays directly and when they bounce off the water or sand.”

eat fiber foods
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Eating a healthy, nutritious diet rich in vegetables can help prevent cancer, experts say. “Plant-based foods do more than taste delicious,” says Grace Fjeldberg, RDN. “They are full of chemicals compounds, called phytochemicals, that protect the body from damage. Phytochemicals also interrupt processes in the body that encourage cancer production. Plant-based diets also are high in fiber, which has been shown to lower the risk for breast and colorectal cancer.

stop smoking
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Smoking tobacco puts you on a “collision course” with cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Smoking has been linked to various types of cancer — including cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, larynx, pancreas, bladder, cervix and kidney. Chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the oral cavity and pancreas. Even if you don’t use tobacco, exposure to secondhand smoke might increase your risk of lung cancer. Avoiding tobacco — or deciding to stop using it — is an important part of cancer prevention. If you need help quitting tobacco, ask your doctor about stop-smoking products and other strategies for quitting.”

Ferozan Mast

Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan