What is it about some New Year’s resolutions that makes them stick? A not-so-scientific survey of my colleagues in the break room tells me it’s the ones that are simple but with a big impact. So this month, we’d like to challenge you to take on a Big Impact Resolution that is simpler than you might think: Reducing Cancer Risk for your children (and yourself).
Research has clearly identified many conditions and exposures that increase the risk of certain cancers. There are also some things that have been clearly linked with a reduced or eliminated risk of cancer. By combining lifestyle habits and medical treatments that prevent/reduce cancers and by steering clear of habits that increase cancers, there are SIX scientifically supported and fairly simple things you can DO to reduce cancer risk for your children (and yourself).
Vaccinate: Hepatitis B vaccination occurs during the newborn period and most parents and pediatricians accept it as routine. It prevents infection with the virus Hepatitis B which is transmitted sexually or through blood and can eventually cause liver cancer. So why all the hesitation over HPV vaccination? It prevents the spread of HPV, another sexually transmitted virus that causes warts, pre-cancers, and many cancers in men and women. Studies to date are proving that the HPV vaccine is safe and extremely effective if given young (the younger it’s given, the better it works). It’s also getting easier because only two injections are necessary (instead of three) if it is started before the 15th birthday. Get your sons and daughters vaccinated at the recommended age of 11-12. IT. PREVENTS. CANCER. If you still have doubts or questions, go here or read this moving blog by a cancer specialist and girlologist.
Daily physical activity. So maybe this is one of your frequently revisited resolutions, but now, more than ever, you have reason to stick with it because regular physical activity is clearly related to a reduction in cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, colon, and kidney. For adults, that means being physically active for at least 30 minutes every day (vigorous enough to make you sweat and breathe hard). For children, an hour per day is recommended.
Eat a healthy diet. Nutrition plays a critical role in obesity and it’s consequences. As our nation has become more and more obese, certain cancer rates have skyrocketed, particularly among women. By developing healthy eating habits at home, you will promote health and reduce your family's risks for many cancers as well as other chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Here are our favorite nutritional recommendations:
- Eat a lot of fresh fruits & veggies (reduces risk of colon & breast cancer)
- Avoid obesity (increases breast & uterine cancers)
- Drink alcohol only in moderation (moderate to high alcohol intake is related to increases in breast, colon, lung, kidney, and liver cancer)
- If you eat meat, limit it to less than 11 oz per week with very little of that being processed meats (i.e. prepackaged sandwich meat, sausage, bacon, hot dogs, salami, ham) which are linked to colon cancer
- Avoid sugar sweetened or artificially sweetened drinks.
- Try to eat organic when you are eating any of the “dirty dozen” fruits and veggies. See #4.
Avoid toxic pesticides and chemicals. There is growing science linking some cancers to toxins in the environment, our food, and the products we use on our body and in our home. Many of these chemicals alter our hormones and increase cancer risk that way. Others are directly toxic to certain tissues in our body, particularly breast tissue. Although it’s impossible to avoid all exposure to toxins, we can reduce exposures by choosing personal care products (shampoo, soaps, cosmetics) that avoid using the most toxic ingredients, and by choosing organic when we buy fruits or vegetables in the “dirty dozen” (12 foods that contain the highest levels of pesticides). Say what? That doesn’t sound very simple, but fortunately, there is a website that provides easy resources to guide you. Visit www.ewg.org and look for dirty dozen foods. It’s expensive to buy everything organic, so at least buy what has a big impact. The dirty dozen are a great way to guide your shopping. To learn more about the personal care products you use or to find the safest products, use this guide and as you run out of your current products, begin replacing them with safer alternatives.
Use sun protection. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., and it’s also the most preventable. Sunscreen has become a main staple in soccer bags, pool bags and many backpacks, but it doesn’t do any good unless you put it on! Make sure your children get in the habit of smearing on a safe, non-toxic sunscreen (see #4). Keep them in hats and SPF rated clothing or sun shirts if they are spending a lot of time outdoors, stay in the shade when you can, and avoid direct sun during mid day when those beams are the brightest and most dangerous.
Don’t use tobacco. Duh. Talk with your young children about the risks of all types of tobacco, and continue talking with them into their teens. Tobacco and the toxins it releases have been associated with cancers involving the lungs, mouth, throat, pancreas, bladder, cervix, and kidney. No smoking. No chewing. No vaping. No hookah. Inhaling smoke or chemically saturated vapor into the lungs, regardless of the source of that smoke, is never healthy and is clearly related to lung cancer - one of the top three cancer killers in the U.S.
Don’t let this list overwhelm you. Take baby steps by considering one item at a time and finding ways to incorporate small changes into your family’s routines. Each step you take toward healthy habits is another step away from an unwanted diagnosis in the future.
P.S. January is cervical health awareness month, so if you have a child in the target age range, go get him or her vaccinated and check #1 off your list!