COMMENTARY: Make a lifetime commitment to cancer prevention


If you’re like many Americans, you’re already neglecting your New Year’s resolutions. But consider the big picture: Lifestyle changes — like exercising more, quitting smoking and eating better — are long-term strategies that may reduce your risk of cancer.

About 1.7 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year, with 121,900 diagnoses expected in Texas alone. But many cases are preventable. February is National Cancer Prevention Month, a great time to commit to a lifetime of healthy choices — for yourself and your loved ones. Here are some tips to help reduce the risk of cancer:

>> First and foremost, do not smoke. Smoking is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancers — the No. 1 cancer killer in the United States. If you smoke, the sooner you quit the better.

>> Get vaccinated. Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause six types of cancer, including most cervical cancer cases. A vaccine for preteens can help prevent HPV infection, and there are “catch-up” vaccines for teens and young adults. Most Americans are vaccinated against Hepatitis B (a leading cause of liver cancer) as babies; children who aren’t vaccinated earlier and adults who are at risk of Hepatitis B infection should also get the vaccine.

>> Regular screenings for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers have been shown to reduce cancer deaths. Men should talk to their health care professionals about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening. Lung cancer screenings also are recommended for those at high risk.

>> Avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to reduce your risk of skin cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer. If you must be outside, wear sunglasses and a hat and use sunscreen with at least SPF 30 with UVA and UVB protection.

>> Everyone should engage in regular exercise, which can reduce your risk of colorectal, breast and endometrial cancers. More recent evidence links exercise to reduced risk of additional cancers, including liver and kidney cancers. Adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days per week; children should get at least one hour of exercise daily. Obesity has been linked to at least 13 types of cancer, including post-menopausal breast, colorectal and liver cancers. Eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting red meat and alcohol, also can help you maintain a healthy weight.

The bottom line is that for a lifetime of health think beyond short-term goals.