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These Popular Habits May Increase Cancer Risk

Here’s how to lessen your risk of cancer, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease at number one. "Most cancers are not inevitable. Genes are important, but diet and lifestyle are even more important in most cases," says Dr. Ed Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "You can lower cancer risk, and it's never too late to start benefiting from changes." Here are five popular habits shown to increase the risk of cancer. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Indoor and Outdoor Tanning


Study after study shows that using sunbeds is linked to a higher risk of skin cancer. "The short answer is, yes, tanning beds are just as, if not more, harmful than the sun and there is no such thing as a safe tan," says dermatologist Jennifer Lucas, MD. "There's many reasons to avoid tanning beds altogether… It's that younger, female age group that's really starting to have an increased risk of melanoma. It's hard to know exactly what to attribute that to, but probably the biggest thing we're seeing is that younger women are the ones in tanning beds. The safest way to tan is through sunless tanning.  recommend store-bought or professionally done spray tans or lotions/cream to get your healthy glow."


Drinking Alcohol

Sad woman drinking wine at kitchen.

Experts are now warning that there is no amount of alcohol considered "safe" to drink. "Fewer than one in three Americans recognize alcohol as a cause of cancer," says Harriet Rumgay, researcher at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization. "That's similar in other high-income countries, and it's probably even lower in other parts of the world."


Watching Hours of TV

Obese woman laying on sofa with smartphone eating chips

If you spend hours sitting at work, then hours binge-watching television in your down time, you're putting yourself at risk of serious health conditions, doctors say. "Extended sitting raises your risk for colorectal, ovarian and endometrial cancers," says Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson. "At least once an hour, get up and move. Stand while you're on the phone or walk around the house during TV commercial breaks. A few minutes of light activity throughout the day can add up and help lower your cancer risks."


Smoking Cigarettes

no smoking sign

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., according to the CDC"Fifty percent of smokers die of a smoking-related disease, and the life expectancy of one in four smokers is reduced by as much as 15-20 years," says Edward D. Gometz, MD. "Before the advent of widespread tobacco use in World War II, lung cancer was rare. So rare, in fact, that doctors were required to report cases of lung cancer to the federal government to help identify the local environmental cause of the condition among an affected population, much like reporting cases of mesothelioma today. Now, it is estimated that over 85 percent of all lung cancer is tobacco-related."


Unhealthy Diet

man eating a burger

Research shows that a diet high in processed junk food is strongly correlated with a higher risk of cancer. "Our study findings suggest that among the estimated 80110 new cancer cases attributable to poor diet in 2015, approximately 16% were due to obesity-mediated associations," says Dr. Fang Fang Zhang, a cancer and nutrition researcher at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "For example, high consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) increases the obesity risk and obesity increases the risk of 13 cancers. We estimated that more than 3000 new cancer cases in 2015 were attributable to high SSB consumption. Certainly, new cancer cases that are attributable to the direct carcinogenic effects of certain foods still account for the majority (84%) of the diet-associated cancer burden in the US. These include low consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and high consumption of red and processed meats."

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
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