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Simple ways to reduce cancer risk

Millions of people have had their lives touched by cancer. Whether dealing with their own diagnosis or that of a loved one, men and women often wonder what, if anything, they can do or could have done to prevent cancer from becoming a part of their lives.

While cancer risk depends on a host of factors, some of which are beyond an individual's control, there are certain preventative measures men and women can take to reduce their risk of cancer.

* Stop smoking. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that smoking is responsible for 30 percent of all cancer deaths in Canada. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that smoking causes 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in men and nearly 80 percent in women. However, within 10 years of quitting, an ex-smoker's risk of dying from lung cancer is cut in half while the risk for other cancers, including cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx, and cervix, decreases as well.

* Reduce alcohol consumption. In a study examining the relationship between cancer and alcohol consumption, researchers working with the World Health Organization found that daily consumption of roughly 50g, or less than two fluid ounces, of alcohol doubles or triples the risk for mouth, voice box and throat cancers compared with the risk in nondrinkers. Additional studies have shown a link between alcohol consumption and cancers of the liver and colon. What's more, no fewer than 100 studies have found an increased risk of breast cancer with increasing alcohol intake. Men and women should consult their physicians about what constitutes a healthy consumption of alcohol.

* Be safe in the sun. Though a deep tan might look good, individuals must emphasize protecting their skin from the sun. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., and exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays plays a significant role in the development of skin cancer. When going out in the sun, apply sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15; wear loose fitting clothing and a protective hat, as many skin cancers happen on the face and neck; and always wear sunglasses, preferably those that provide UVA and UVB protection.

* Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese brings forth a host of potentially deadly side effects, not the least of which is increasing a person's risk for cancer. A report from the National Institutes of Health that examined being overweight and obesity in men and women found that carrying excessive weight substantially increases an adult's risk of getting breast, colorectal, endometrial (uterine), and prostate cancers. Healthy weight varies depending on the individual, so men and women concerned about their weight should consult a physician about the best ways to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

More information is available at www.cancer.ca or www.cancer.org.