Most people know someone who has endured cancer. It’s a disease that disrupts lives and ripples through families and communities. And while it’s true that anyone can get cancer, there are also steps that people can take that may lower their risks. In fact, a whopping 30-50% of cancer cases are preventable, according to the World Health Organization. Wouldn’t you want to try to avoid falling ill, if you knew you could?

In honor of National Cancer Month (February) and World Cancer Day (February 4), we’re sharing steps that people can take toward a healthier life.

  1. Quit smoking. The No. 1 risk factor for cancer is smoking. That single habit is linked to 80-90% of lung cancer deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cigarette smoking also increases the risk for other types of cancer, including cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voice box (larynx), lung, trachea, bronchus. Smoking tobacco can also lead to cancer of the kidney and renal pelvis, bladder and cervix, according to the CDC. If you smoke, ask your doctor for advice about quitting, or call or visit the Alabama Public Health Quitline at 1-800 Quit Now. This free service is available to anyone who lives in Alabama.
  2. Learn the risks of radon. Exposure to radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer, after smoking, according to the CDC. Radon is a gas that occurs naturally. It can cause health problems when it seeps into homes or workplaces, exposing people for a prolonged period of time. With a radon kit, you can test your home and learn if you’re being exposed. Read more about how here.  
  3. Eat a healthy diet. Saturated fat and red meat are known to increase the risk of colon cancer. Limit those in your diet, and also limit sugary drinks. Aim to eat more fresh fiber-filled fruits and vegetables, like apples, blueberries, cherries, grapes, oranges, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, squash and spinach. Some other healthy additions to your diet could include whole grains, beans, lentils, flax seed and walnuts. The American Institute for Cancer Research publishes a list of foods that could help protect you from cancer here. If you’re looking to have fun with food, do a search for healthy cooking classes in your community. You might learn some new skills and even discover some favorite flavors.
  4. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Booze can raise your risk for several types of cancer, including mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver and breast. In sum, “the less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for cancer,” says the CDC. If you do choose to drink, the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that men drink two or fewer alcoholic beverages a day, and women drink one or less. Also, consider trying a non-alcoholic beverage. Several types of beer and mocktail options are available now, and can be a refreshing alternative.
  5. Exercise regularly and strive for a healthy weight. According to Harvard Medical School, obesity can increase your risk for many types of cancer. In addition to eating more healthy foods, up your exercise to increase your muscle mass and reduce fat. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans say that adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week and two days of strength training. While those are good goals, it’s also important to find activities you love, so that you’re more likely to commit to them. See what workout classes are available in your community, and ask a friend to join you. It may benefit you both!
  6. Slather on the sunscreen. By protecting your skin every day — even on cloudy days, even in the winter — you can lower your risk for skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using broad-spectrum sun protection that is water resistant and has an SPF of 30 or higher. In addition, avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the rays are strongest and wear protective clothing and a broad-brimmed hat when you can. And skip the tanning bed, which can also raise your risk for skin cancer—and wrinkles.
  7. See your healthcare provider regularly. It’s important to have a doctor you know and trust, and who knows you and your health history. They can make sure that you stay on top of routine health services that can lower your risk for cancer. Vaccinations such as the HPV vaccine, for example, helps prevent different types of cervical cancer, and the hepatitis B vaccine can lower your risk for liver cancer. Your primary care provider can also help you schedule important screenings, such as a mammogram, colonoscopy and Pap test, which can help detect different types of cancer early. When you see your doctor, be sure to bring up any questions, concerns or changes that you’ve noticed in how you look and feel.
  8. Educate yourself. While anyone can get cancer, older adults are more at risk. In fact, aging is considered the top risk factor. Of course, you can’t do anything to turn back the clock. But you can take steps throughout your life to reduce your risk, and you can be aware of the risks you face. For example, according to the National Cancer Institute the median age for a breast cancer diagnosis is 62; for colorectal cancer it’s 67; for lung cancer it’s 71; and for prostate cancer it’s 66. When you educate yourself with these kinds of statistics, you empower yourself to take take prevention steps, including important screenings.

This month, as organizations everywhere raise awareness about cancer for National Cancer Month and World Cancer Day, think about what you can do to prevent cancer in your community. The above steps are a great start. There are also opportunities everywhere to volunteer with cancer-centered organizations, donate money to cancer-related causes, participate in fundraising walks and runs and simply commit to learning more about cancer, so that you can make informed decisions that impact your health, and the health of your family.