If someone in your family or friend’s circle has been diagnosed with cancer, you may wonder if you too are at risk. Research shows that 1 out of every nine Indians will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Cancer is becoming increasingly common, causing us to wonder if our lifestyle and daily habits may have a role to play in this.
Cancer is largely a lifestyle disease. There are genetic causes for cancer as well, but these account for only 5 – 10% of cancers. This means that although we cannot completely prevent cancer, we can minimize our risk of cancer by changing our lifestyle.
Here we look at six habits that increase our risk of cancer.
Tobacco is the single largest, most preventable cause of cancer. It leads to cancers of the mouth and oral cavity, lung cancer, cervical cancer, and several other diseases.
Chewing of tobacco in the form of gutka, zarda, paan masala etc is the leading cause of cancers of the head and neck. Smoking, vaping, hukka etc are all harmful forms of tobacco consumption.
Simply put, there is no safe level of tobacco consumption. But the good news is: once you quit smoking, you can reduce your risk over a few years.
A lot of people find it difficult to quit smoking. There are several support groups, de-addiction counselors, and medical professionals who can help you quit smoking successfully.
You can read more about what happens when you quit smoking here.
Processed foods include a wide range of foods easily available in our market today, from chips to bread. Any food that has already been altered before reaching you is processed food. This means foods that have already been cooked, frozen, canned, cured, packaged etc in order to preserve it or change its nature, are processed foods.
Go through your fridge and pantry to see how many of those items are processed. You will find that almost 30% of what we consume tends to be processed.
Changing this habit requires willpower and motivation, but the easiest way to do it is to find fun and tasty ways of incorporating fresh foods into your daily routine.
Here are some ideas:
- Make a list of dishes (with recipes) that can be made from fresh foods like fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains (like barley, millets). Depending on your cuisine and taste preferences, you will find websites that can provide these recipes for you. Having this information at hand, can reduce your dependency on processed foods.
- Make your grocery list before you shop. Write out the healthy ingredients you need and avoid impulse purchases while you are at the shop.
- Find fresh fruits and vegetables that you can enjoy. Experimenting with different ingredients and spices may also help.
- Make more time for cooking. This can be the one factor that changes your dietary habits completely. Many working professionals tend to avoid cooking, and depend on packaged foods, leading to insufficient nutrition in their food.
You can consider following an anti-inflammatory diet that reduces your risk of developing cancer. Here you can find a complete meal plan for an Indian anti-inflammatory diet with recipes.
An inactive lifestyle
If you tend to be seated through most of your waking hours, you run the risk of obesity. Obesity is closely linked to a higher risk of cancer.
You can find some easy tips to maintain an active lifestyle here.
Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise four to five times a week decreases your risk of several diseases including cancer. Walking is an easy aerobic exercise. Ensure you keep yourself hydrated while exercising.
Cool drinks and processed juices tend to have very high levels of sugar in them. Drinking beverages with high sugar content can increase your risk of several types of cancers. It is also closely linked with obesity which is another risk factor for cancer.
Sugary drinks have been linked specifically to colorectal cancers in younger women.
Alcohol increases your risk of several types of cancers including cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breasts. While for some types of cancer, higher quantities of alcohol consumption are linked to higher risk of cancer, with some other types of cancer (like breast cancer), even smaller amounts of alcohol can lead to increased risk.
Consumption of red meat like mutton, lamp and pork can increase your risk of bowel and stomach cancer.
If you are in the habit of consuming red meat regularly, consider substituting it with lean meats like fish and poultry. Other good sources of protein include eggs, beans and lentils.