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How to Reverse Your Cancer Risk, Say Experts

Make these easy lifestyle changes and reduce your risk of the deadly disease.

Want to cut your risk of cancer by nearly 70%? Recent research indicates you can, by making one simple thing part of your routine. And it's far from the only way you can slash your chances of developing several different types of cancer. Studies have found making easy lifestyle changes—some you might not even associate with cancer—can reduce your risk of the disease. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Lose Weight, If You Need To

feet on scale

You know that being overweight or obese is bad for your heart. But did you know it increases your cancer risk too? Research indicates that men who are severely obese have a 52% higher risk of dying of cancer, and women have a 62% higher risk, compared to people who are at a healthy weight. Studies have also found that excess body fat increases the risk for 13 types of cancer. The culprit may be inflammation, a known cancer accelerator. "There are opportunities for weight loss to reverse these negative or molecular pathways that influence cancer risk," said Tanya Agurs-Collins, Ph.D., RD, of the National Cancer Institute last month.


Maintain A Healthy Cholesterol Level

high cholesterol

High cholesterol is another condition we associate primarily with heart disease risk, but research indicates it might raise your odds of developing cancer, too. Cholesterol may act as a fuel for tumors. A study published in August in the journal Nature Communications found that people with high cholesterol levels were more likely to develop breast cancer or have worse outcomes from other cancers. "Most cancer cells die as they try to metastasize — it's a very stressful process," said study senior author Donald P. McDonnell, Ph.D., of Duke University. "The few that don't die have this ability to overcome the cell's stress-induced death mechanism. We found that cholesterol was integral in fueling this ability." Have your cholesterol regularly checked, and if it's in an unhealthy range, talk to your doctor about potential solutions.

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According to a study published in the journal BMJ Open, people with high levels of dental plaque are 80 percent more likely to die prematurely of cancer than those who have a small amount of plaque. "Participants with periodontal disease and a higher number of teeth lost had a higher risk of developing the two gastrointestinal cancers, even after adjusting for other major risk factors," said Mingyang Song, assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. What may explain the increased risk: Again, inflammation, which may originate in the mouth and spread throughout the body, raising cancer odds.

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Don't Rely on Supplements

vitamins and supplements

Many of us take supplements believing they'll reduce our cancer risk. The experts say: Don't count on it. They advise eating fruits and vegetables instead. "Although a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods may reduce the risk of cancer, there is limited and inconsistent evidence that dietary supplements can reduce cancer risk," says the American Cancer Society. "Further, some studies have found that high-dose supplements containing nutrients such as beta-carotene and vitamins A and E can actually increase the risk of some cancers."

The agency added: "Some supplements are described as containing the nutritional equivalent of vegetables and fruits. However, the small amount of dried powder in such pills often contains only a small fraction of the levels in the whole foods, and there is very little evidence supporting a role of these products in lowering cancer risk. Food is the best source of vitamins, minerals, and other important food components." 

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Exercise Often

woman running on treadmill holding hand weights
Shutterstock / Kzenon

A review of research conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine found that regular exercise may reduce the risk of some cancers by as much as 69%. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is strong evidence that regular physical activity lowers your risk of developing several types of cancer, including breast, colon, esophageal, bladder, kidney and stomach. Regular exercise seems to bolster the immune system. Your move: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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