cancer riskMimi Taylor, M.S., Eastern Idaho Public Health

I have worked as a Cancer Prevention Specialist for many years. So, imagine my surprise when I asked my husband a few simple questions about cancer risk and he didn’t know the correct answers.

I went online to see how many other people didn’t know the answer to these questions. I was shocked. Apparently, fewer than half of Americans recognize or understand the common cancer risks in their lives.

Of the many risk factors for cancer, some are not in your control, like your age and your genetics. Others are totally within your scope of influence. Here is a list of scientifically-based cancer risk factors (from the American Cancer Institute) that you can control.

  • Obesity: Increases a person’s risk for the following cancers: colorectal, breast (post-menopausal), ovarian, esophageal, endometrial, kidney, pancreatic, gall bladder, stomach, liver and prostrate. Losing as little as five pounds, can improve your health.
  • Insufficient physical activity: Raises a person’s risk of colorectal, post-menopausal breast and endometrial cancers. The recommended amount of exercise is 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
  • Diet low in fruits & vegetables: Increases the risk for the following cancers: colorectal, mouth, pharynx (back of the mouth) and larynx (voice box). Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables offers the best protection against cancer.
  • Diet high in red meat or cured (processed) meat: Raises the risk for colorectal and stomach cancers. Processed meat includes sausage, ham, hot dogs and deli meats.
  • Consuming 3.5 drinks/day of alcohol: Raises the risk for the following cancers: colorectal, breast (pre- and post-menopausal), mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophageal, liver and stomach. One drink is defined as 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of hard alcohol.

Only 1 in 10 people know there is a link between coffee consumption and cancer risk. Research shows that drinking coffee lowers the risk of endometrial and liver cancers. But, it can increase the risk of esophageal cancer if the coffee is too hot (greater than 140 F).

Remember, one of the best defenses against cancer is a strong offense. Prevent it by the choices you make daily.