Figures show a rise in ‘lifestyle cancers’ fuelled by boozing, poor diet and sunny holidays. But there are simple ways to reduce your risk of the deadly disease
Tips to beat the big C: Coffee, garlic and laughter
Cancer is the one disease we all fear, yet according to new figures there’s been a steep rise in rates of types that are caused by lifestyle factors – triggered by excess alcohol, smoking, obesity and exposure to sun.
But while most of us know we need to be healthier and give up smoking, it can be hard to know where to start.
Below are 21 specific tips from the latest research. Some may seem small and simple but taken together as part of a healthy lifestyle, they could help lower your risk of a variety of cancers.
1. Find your healthy weight
At least one in 20 cancers in the UK are linked to being overweight, with the World Health Organization calling obesity the most important known avoidable cause of cancer after tobacco.
This is because fat tissue in overweight people produces high levels of hormones, including oestrogen and insulin, which increase the risk of certain cancers such as breast, bowel and pancreatic.
Research shows that losing weight can slash your risk of all cancers by a quite some margin.
2. Have a giggle every day
Laughter boosts the immune system, slashes stress hormones and has also been shown to stimulate the body’s production of killer T-cells, which help fight cancer.
What better excuse to meet up with friends for a good giggle or watch your favourite comedy show?
3. Start wearing a hat when you’re outdoors
A report this month suggested that wearing sun cream alone was not a reliable way to prevent getting melanoma. The study by Manchester University found that while it could stop sunburn, it still allowed enough rays through to cause potentially fatal disease in the long term.
This means covering up with clothing is vital – and in particular with a sunhat.
Although melanoma can appear anywhere on the body, researchers have found that people with skin cancers on the scalp or neck die at almost twice the rate of people with the same cancer on other areas of the body.
4. Have a beer... but make sure it’s just the one
Beer may help protect against the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which is known to cause ulcers and is possibly linked to stomach cancer, so when consumed in strict moderation it could have some health benefits.
But drinking more than one or two alcoholic drinks a day will increase your risk of mouth, throat, esophageal and liver cancer.
And women should take extra care, as even one drink a day has been found to increase breast cancer risk by 10%. Experts now recommend aiming for two booze-free days a week.
5. Stop sitting still for long periods
Scientists last month warned we should all sit less to avoid cancer. Indeed, the risk of developing cancers, especially womb, bowel and lung, rises by up to 10% for every extra two hours sitting, according to a new review of studies by the University of Regensburg in Germany.
The effect appeared to be unrelated to how much exercise people took when they were not sat in a chair or sofa, suggesting that even people who are physically active may increase their cancer risk by staying immobile for too long at a time.
6. Feel free to quaff a cup coffee or five
People who drank five or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day had a 40% decreased risk of brain cancer, compared with people who drank none, according to a 2010 British study.
And a similar level of coffee intake appears to reduce the risk of oral and throat cancer almost as much.
7. Keep dry cleaning to a minimum
Some of the chemicals used in dry cleaning have been linked to kidney and liver damage and cancer in animals that were repeatedly exposed to it in research.
Although any risk to humans is most likely to be with the people working daily with these chemicals, it’s easy and cheaper to buy clothes that don’t require dry-cleaning to be on the safe side.
8. Marinate meat before you eat
Turkey steaks with lime Barrier: Marinade prevents meat from contacting flame
Chargrilling or frying meat at high temperatures creates a variety of chemicals that have been linked to cancer.
But researchers from the American Institute for Cancer Research found that coating the meat with a marinade prevented direct contact with the flames, reducing the amount of carcinogenic chemicals that were created.
For an easy marinade, mix the juice of a lemon with two tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of clear honey, a dash of soy sauce and a good dollop of Dijon mustard.
9. Drink plenty as long as it’s not lots of alcohol
Drinking lots of water and other liquids may reduce your risk of bladder cancer by diluting the concentration of cancer-causing agents in urine and helping to flush them through the bladder faster.
The easiest way to tell if you are drinking enough fluid is to check that you’re going to the loo regularly throughout the day, and that your urine is pale yellow, not dark.
10. Get your heart rate raised
Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day halves your risk of developing cancer, according to the World Cancer Research Fund.
And that half an hour doesn’t have to be spent at the gym – there are plenty of other ways to be active that can easily fit into your usual routine such as walking to work or doing the gardening.
11. Save red meat for a treat
To reduce bowel cancer risk, eat no more than 500g (cooked weight) per week of red meat, such as beef and lamb – that’s about two meals per week.
And the latest research suggests it’s better to avoid processed meats such as ham, bacon and sausages altogether, as the more often people eat them, the higher their cancer risk.
12. Go nuts for Brazilian nuts
Brazil nuts are the best source of selenium, an antioxidant that lowers the risk of bladder cancer, according to research.
Other studies have found that people with high blood levels of selenium have lower rates of dying of lung cancer and bowel cancer.
Just four nuts per day is enough so get snacking.
13. Raise your vitamin D levels
The latest research suggests getting too little vitamin D may increase your risk of multiple cancers, including breast, colon, prostate and ovarian.
Since it’s made by the action of sunlight on skin, aim for 15 minutes of exposure a day, without sunscreen as this blocks its production. Then cover up or head for the shade.
Or try a supplement such as Healthspan’s Super Strength Vitamin D3, £10.95, healthspan.co.uk.
14. Eat more fruit, pulses and grains
The World Cancer Research Fund says: “There’s strong evidence that vegetables, fruits, whole grains and pulses can help protect against a range of cancers including mouth, stomach and bowel cancer.”
As well as aiming for your five a day, it recommends trying to include whole grains such as brown rice or whole meal bread and pulses such as lentils or beans, with every meal.
15. Don’t microwave your veggies
If you’re in the habit of blitzing veg in the microwave while trying to raise your intake, you might want to switch to steaming instead.
While studies show microwaving vegetables won’t lower their vitamin C content, one Spanish study found it could destroy 97% of broccoli’s cancer-protective flavonoids.
16. The greener the better
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When you’re choosing salad, go for the darkest leaves. The chlorophyll that gives them their colour is packed with magnesium, which studies have found lowers the risk of bowel cancer.
17. Ditch your lovely scented candle
Believe it or not, the air in your home can often be more polluted than outdoors.
But while tobacco smoke is by far the worst pollutant, experts say that the volatile organic compounds released by certain cleaning products, air fresheners and some scented candles could be carcinogenic.
While the jury is still out on how much of a threat this poses to human health, it’s easy to limit exposure to these sources by opening windows and doors often to keep your home well ventilated.
18. Up the amount of garlic you eat
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Garlic contains sulphur compounds that may stimulate the immune system’s defenses against cancer.
In particular, studies suggest that garlic can make stomach cancer up to 12 times less likely. To up your intake, add garlic to soups, stir-fries and pasta sauces.
19. Pass on the salt and don’t add extra
Salt is linked to 14% of stomach cancer cases in the UK. Our daily intake should be less than 6g (2.4g sodium) so don’t add any to food, and check the sodium content of shop-bought foods.
20. Sleep in total darkness
Many studies have linked prolonged exposure to artificial light at night, as experienced by long-term shift workers, to a higher risk of several cancers, including breast and prostate.
Experts suspect this is due to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol suppressing the immune system.
On the other hand, researchers have found that sleeping in total darkness promotes healthy levels of the sleep hormone melatonin, which may help prevent the growth of some cancers.
Invest in blackout blinds or an eye mask if your bedroom lets in too much light.
21. Keep fruits out of the fridge
Studies show that chilled fruit contains fewer cancer-fighting nutrients than fruit kept at room temperature.
For example, tomatoes and peppers stored in a bowl rather than the fridge can contain double the beta carotene and up to 20 times more lycopene – both of which have been linked to lowering rates of cancers.