Reducing Your Risk of Cancer
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Living a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of cancer

More than 50% of cancers are preventable. What you eat, whether you smoke, your level of activity, and how you spend time in the sun are all lifestyle choices that can affect your chances of getting cancer - and your chances of preventing it. While we can’t change our genetic background (only 5-10% of all cancers are related to an inherited gene mutation), we can make better choices for a healthier future. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet that includes grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, lower fat dairy and meat; and limiting salt, caffeine and alcohol 
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight to guard against obesity 
  • Exercising regularly (e.g. one hour of light walking every day or 30-60 min. brisk walking 4-5 times a week) 
  • Eliminating unhealthy activities, such as smoking and excess exposure to sun (including tanning) 
  • Practicing safe sex and limiting your number or sexual partners, which decreases the chance of acquiring Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a contributory cause of cervical cancer
  • Ensuring your child is up to date with their Hepatitis B vaccinations and asking your public health nurse or family doctor about HPV vaccination if you or your daughter are between the ages of 9 - 26. 
  • Early detection and diagnosis are the keys to treating cancer with any degree of success. Pay attention to warning signals:
    • Change in bowel or bladder habits - a change in your normal pattern that persists
    • A sore that does not heal
    • Unusual bleeding or discharge
    • Thickening or lump
    • Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
    • Obvious change in wart or mole
    • Nagging cough or hoarseness

Participate in regular cancer screening programs, which are essential to early detection:

  • Breast: Women aged 40-79 can book screening mammograms directly with BC’s Screening Mammography Program (SMP). Be aware of how your breasts look and feel, and see your doctor right away if you notice any changes.
  • Prostate: Men aged 50+ should talk to their doctor about the benefits and limitations of PSA (prostate specific antigen) testing. The test is available through your doctor. Men 50-70 should have an annual Digital Rectal Examination by a physician.
  • Colon: Men and women aged 50-74 should have a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every two years. If you have a personal history of adenomas or significant family history of colon cancer, a screening colonoscopy is recommended instead.
  • Cervix: Women should start having Pap tests at age 21 or three years after first sexual contact, whichever occurs first. Pap tests should be done every year for the first three years, followed by every two years if your results are normal until age 69. Talk to your doctor about being tested after age 69 if your results have not always been normal.

Since one in every three Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer at some time in their life, let’s get serious about our health with a healthy lifestyle, awareness of warning signals, and involvement in screening programs.

For more information contact the cancer service programs in your hospital, the Canadian Cancer Society or visit the BC Cancer Agency website.


MoH     PCQO