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A Clearer View of What Causes Cancer (And What You Should Do)

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

For decades, doctors have known that certain habits and lifestyle choices can increase people’s chances of developing cancer.

Smoking, as we know, is a major cause of lung cancer. Obesity and inactivity can leave us vulnerable to colon cancer, and drinking too much alcohol can cause liver cancer, to name just a few examples.

A new report by the American Cancer Society has given us a much clearer view of how our choices influence our exposure to cancer. All in all, around 42 percent of cancers may be linked to “modifiable behaviors” – that is, things we have the power to change.

It didn’t come as a huge surprise that cigarette smoking remains the top cause of cancer, causing nearly 20 percent of all U.S. cancer cases and close to 30 percent of cancer deaths. In addition to lung cancer, smoking also drives up breast- and uterine cancer risk in women.

Long known as a cancer risk factor, obesity is responsible for 7.8 percent of cancer cases and 6.5 percent of deaths. Alcohol intake is shown to cause 5.6 percent of cancer cases. Other identified causes include ultraviolet radiation, lack of exercise, low fruit and vegetable intake and HPV infection.

But with lifestyle changes, can we actually prevent cancer? Not so fast, says Dr. Mark A. Socinski, Executive Medical Director of the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute.

“This is the first time I’ve seen an attempt to quantitate the percentage of cancers that could be preventable – and I say that with a little bit of hesitation,” Dr. Socinski explains. “Depending on what your habits and behaviors are, you can either limit the risk of exposure or increase the risk of exposure.”

Many other factors influence our cancer risk – some we can control, some we can’t. “Cancer is a disease of your DNA, and we know that many cancers are related to the DNA you inherit,” Dr. Socinski says.

In addition to the genetic blueprint you’re born with, lifestyle behaviors and age (your DNA gets damaged over time, increasing your cancer risk as you get older) form the complex combination of factors that predict your likelihood of developing cancer.

So while Dr. Socinski may stop just short of calling cancer “preventable,” he says embracing a healthier lifestyle can absolutely reduce your risk of cancer and a battery of other diseases.

“For me, the takeaway is that this new data reminds us we need to be responsible for our personal health, and practice good health habits in general,” says Dr. Socinski.

“It’s good documentation that a number of poor habits can increase your risk of cancer, and motivation that there are things you can do on an individual basis that may reduce or delay your risk of developing cancer.”


Tips for Reducing Your Cancer Risk

According to Dr. Socinski, leading a healthier lifestyle can lower your risk of cancer and other diseases. Here are a few things you can do right now.

1. Stop Smoking...Or Don’t Start
The new American Cancer Society findings confirm that smoking cigarettes remains the top cause of cancer. In general, fewer people are taking up smoking, but we still have a long way to go. “We’ve made some progress as a nation, but about 20 percent of the population still smokes, and that’s a problem,” says Dr. Socinski.

If you’re currently a smoker who is interested in quitting, you can join Florida Hospital’s Break the Chain™ Stop Smoking Program, an individualized course of treatment to help you kick the habit once and for all. Contact us today at (407) 303-6830.

2. Exercise Regularly
Inactivity and obesity are linked to a variety of diseases, including colon cancer and cardiovascular diseases. “We’ve gotten kind of lazy as a nation, with our caloric intake and habits; we’re a country of couch potatoes,” warns Dr. Socinski. By incorporating regular exercise – be it biking, walking, running, yoga or strength training – we can set ourselves up for better health overall.

3. Eat More Fruits, Vegetables & Lean Meats
A diet heavy in red meat and processed meat can put you at a higher risk of developing colon cancer. CREATION Health principles embraced by Florida Hospital support diversifying your diet with plant-based options, and the abundant vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber found in many fruits and vegetables will contribute to your overall health and reduce your cancer risk.

4. Moderate Your Alcohol Intake
The new research shows that alcohol causes nearly six percent of U.S. cancer cases, but the solution may not be as simple as cutting out alcohol altogether.

“Alcohol [overconsumption] is not good for liver health, but there’s also data to suggest that moderate intake of red wine is a health benefit,” says Dr. Socinski. “So we’re at risk of shouting out conflicting messages – alcohol is bad versus alcohol is good.”

Dr. Socinski’s suggestion? “My personal view of life is, everything in moderation.”

5. Limit Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation
This one’s especially important for us Floridians. Nearly all skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to UV radiation – either from the sun or other sources, like tanning beds.

With around four million cases diagnosed each year, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., but there’s a lot you can do to limit your risk. Stay in the shade whenever possible, protect skin with hats and long sleeves or pants, and wear broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day, even when it’s cloudy. 

Learn more information about the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute and Dr. Mark Socinski.