Cancer prevention: small changes make a big difference

Actions to minimize your risk of cancer

Image supplied by: Opa

When we consider the alarming statistic that two out of five Canadians are expected to develop cancer during their lifetimes, it’s not hard to see why so many people view cancer as an inevitable fate. Yet, this perception couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Advances in cancer research have revealed that approximately 50 per cent of all cancers are preventable. That is, our risk depends not only on our genes, but also on our environments and lifestyle choices. To follow is a breakdown of seven major factors related to cancer and how you can take action to minimize your own risk. 



You’ve heard it before, but when we bear in mind that tobacco kills six million people each year it’s worth reiterating: quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. 

Not only does smoking substantially increase one’s risk of lung cancer, but also cancer of the nasal cavity, mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, liver, kidney, pancreas, cervix, colon and rectum, stomach, larynx, acute myelogenous leukemia and some types of ovarian tumours. 

Try setting a realistic quit date, writing down all your reasons for quitting, avoiding situational triggers, and telling your friends and family about your goal. Quitting is far from easy, but persevering has huge long-term benefits. 


While we’d love for the well-cited benefits of red wine to outweigh the risks, unfortunately, when it comes to alcohol, less is more. Compared to tobacco, it’s not as well-known how alcohol increases one’s risk of developing many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon and rectum, esophagus, larynx, liver, mouth and pharynx. Rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach, try cutting back the number of drinks you have on a given night, and choose certain days of the week to be your “dry days.” 

Healthy eating

Every day, it seems as though a new report surfaces revealing what foods presumably cause or prevent cancer. While the jury is still out on many of these findings, several actions have been consistently shown to reduce one’s cancer risk, including: eating many fruits and vegetables, having a high-fibre diet, minimizing red meat and avoiding processed meats. 

Physical activity 

Regular physical activity can protect against colon and breast cancer. Moreover, because physical activity is helpful to maintaining a healthy body weight, it also decreases one’s risk of cancer of the breast, colon and rectum, esophagus, kidney, pancreas and uterus. 

At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily is beneficial, and this doesn’t just mean half an hour on the treadmill — simply taking a longer route to school can make a difference.  


Exposure to harmful substances and environmental risks is at times out of your control; however, there are still ways to reduce your exposure. Don’t idle your vehicle; avoid exercising near areas where traffic is heavy; purchase a kit at your local hardware store to test for radon in your home.

Ultraviolet radiation

Despite our seemingly endless winters, Canada’s sunlight is certainly strong enough to cause skin cancer. In fact, ultraviolet (UV) rays are reflected (and even increased) by water, sand and especially snow. Practice safe sun by applying sunscreen, wearing a brimmed hat and by avoiding tanning beds at all costs. 

Cancer screening 

Screening, a method of secondary prevention, involves testing for certain types of cancer before symptoms occur. Certain ages and populations can be regularly screened for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk, and be sure to mention if you have a family history of cancer. 

It’s important to remember that prevention isn’t a guarantee; rather, it’s all about minimizing your risk of cancer as much as possible. If we remember that around 50 per cent of all cancers are preventable, one may be inclined to think about the 50 per cent of cancers that are unavoidable. But when it comes to cancer, remember that the glass isn’t only half-full, but it’s also in your hands. Cheers to prevention.

Interested in learning and exchanging knowledge about developments in cancer prevention? The CanPrevent Conference will be held on Saturday, Nov. 14 at Queen’s University. 


cancer, Health, prevention

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