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10 Lifestyle Choices You Can Adopt to Prevent Cancer This Holiday Season

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Milwaukee, Wis. -- This holiday, give yourself a gift - discover 10 ways to prevent cancer. Aurora Health Care cancer experts offer 10 lifestyle choices you can make to decrease your chance of getting cancer.

"These are positive strategies will not just help prevent cancer but lead to an overall healthier life," said Bruce Van Cleave, M.D., Aurora's chief medical officer. "The toughest thing about them is the fact that for many people, it requires changing longtime habits. But it's never too late to make a change for the better."

Among items suggested by the American Cancer Society include:

Don't smoke. Smoking has been linked not only to 30% of cancer deaths, but to heart disease, aneurysms, bronchitis, emphysema, stroke and other problems. And remember, smoking is bad not only for you, but for anyone subjected to it secondhand.

Limit alcohol consumption. As in most things, moderation is the key. People who drink alcohol should limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. Alcohol and tobacco used together increases the risk even more. Alcohol use has been linked to an increased risk of cancers of the stomach, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon.

Eat 5-9 servings of fruits & veggies. Increasing these in your diet reduces your risk of cancer. Sound difficult? There are easy additions you can make. If you eat cereal, slice a banana over it. Snack on crisp veggies at work instead of chips. Dried fruit counts, too, and is easy to stash in a lunch box. Having a sandwich? Add veggies or a side salad. At night, heat up frozen vegetables and add your favorite fruit for dessert. Don't like fruit alone? Put it in yogurt.

Eat less red meat. Eating less meat and being careful about how it is prepared can have an impact on your health beyond colorectal cancer. While overcooked meat has been linked to cancer, undercooked meat can cause E. coli or other infections, while meat high in fat is linked to heart disease.

Get regular exercise. Time is at a premium for everyone, but what price do you put on health? You don't have to join a gym; you can choose activities that fit into your schedule, like walking, using DVDs at home or signing up for dance lessons. The important thing is to maintain your efforts. If you do get off track, don't give up. Resolve to keep going; every bit helps.

Reduce stress. Some people pride themselves on being Type A personalities. But maintaining a frenzied schedule isn't a sign of success - it's one of stress. Learn to prioritize, and if you have a bad day, don't get locked in a cycle of worry. Know that the problem will pass. Think about exercise or meditation to help calm yourself.

Perform monthly self-exams. Self-exams require only a few minutes a month. Resolve to do them. If you have trouble remembering them, mark them on the calendar and make them a priority. A self-exam takes a lot less time and effort than major surgery.

Follow screening guidelines. In addition to monthly screenings, women over 40 should have annual pap smears and breast exams and men should have annual prostate exams. If you have a family history of cancer, these might be necessary at an earlier age and be done more often. And colonoscopies, which can detect colon cancer or polyps, are recommended for people 50 and over.

Know your family history. If someone in your family, especially immediate family, has had cancer, you are at increased risk of developing cancer. As mentioned above, you may need to be screened earlier in life and undergo screenings more frequently. If you don't know, make it a point to discuss with relatives so you have an accurate picture of your history.

Avoid sun exposure. Make sure to use sun block or sunscreen when outdoors and don't stay outside for long periods. Be particularly careful with children, who cannot safely tolerate much sun exposure. Use hats, sunglass, sun block and other items to protect them. Much of our sun damage occurs when we are young. Sun causes premature aging as well as cancer. Tanning beds are not a safe option, either, because they emit the same damaging rays as the sun.

For people who want more information or motivation, the American Cancer Society web site offers information and worksheets at

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit Wisconsin health care provider and a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of health care. Aurora offers care at sites in more than 90 communities throughout eastern Wisconsin.

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Sue Pierman

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