Cancer-causing habits you need to stop immediately

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Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in America, with 1,762,450 new cases diagnosed and 606,880 deaths due to cancer expected by the American Cancer Society in 2019. There are many types of cancer and, depending on your genetics and environmental factors, you may be at greater risk for some types than others. If you have a family history of one type of cancer, that will increase your likelihood of being diagnosed. For some women with breast cancer, for instance, a diagnosis can be predicted by testing for a certain gene. In these cases, the cause of the cancer was clearly not lifestyle habits or diet. In other cases, cancer can be triggered by factors that are somewhat in your control.

There are some things you can do to try to minimize your risk. Eating a diet rich with foods that can help lower your risk of cancer may help. Additionally, seeing your doctor regularly and staying informed about your health can ensure that you catch any subtle symptoms of cancer early, before the cancer goes unnoticed and spreads. But there are also many habits that increase cancer's threat - you should stop these cancer-causing habits immediately.


If there's one thing you should absolutely do for your health, it's to quit smoking. "It actually turns out that most of the reductions in cancer deaths have occurred because we as a society have decreased our amount of smoking," said Mark E. Reeves, MD, director of the Loma Linda University Cancer Center. Despite these reductions, lung cancer is still the biggest killer in the U.S. "It dwarfs all other cancers," Reeves said, "and many researchers think tobacco is still responsible for approximately 50 percent of cancer deaths."

Forgetting sunscreen

"Be mindful of the sun and use sunscreen," advised Reeves. "This will limit your risk for all types of skin cancers, such as melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma." You need sunscreen even on days when it's not especially sunny; in fact, you should even wear sunscreen on days you're mostly indoors.

Going to tanning salons

Reeves warned that tanning salons can also increase your risk of various skin cancers. Ultraviolet radiation used in tanning beds is a known carcinogen according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Estimates show that indoor tanning may cause upwards of 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year, and that tanning at these salons before age 35 can increase your risk of melanoma by nearly 60 percent.

Eating a lot of sugar

"Sugars are needed to provide us with energy and, in moderate amounts, can be OK," said cardiologist Dr. Garth Graham. "However, sustained high levels of sugars damage our cells and can also increase our chance of getting cancer as well as other conditions like heart disease and diabetes." Not sure if the amount of sugar you're eating is too much? If you feel any of these symptoms, you may be overdoing it.

Failing to manage stress

Everyone gets stressed sometimes, but make sure you have some tools in place to help reduce stress when things get particularly bad. "Stress can cause undue inflammation throughout your body," Reeves explained. "Even if a person is eating well and exercising regularly, difficult life situations or ongoing mental stressors can have a tangible impact on his or her physical wellbeing." During particularly trying times, a person may experience physical symptoms caused by stress, such as body aches or painful headaches. But the dangers don't stop there. "Unbalanced stress can lead to chemical damage of your body, which could put you at higher risk for cancer," Reeves said. What works to reduce stress varies from person to person, but some basic techniques include mindfulness, creative expression and seeking professional help.

Skipping screenings

"There are many types of screenings for different forms of cancer," said Reeves. "Low-dose CT that looks at the lungs, for example, can reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent. That's an enormous drop." Getting the right medical tests can save your life. If you aren't asking your doctor which cancer screenings you might consider, it's time to start. "There are highly effective screenings for so many cancers, including common cancers such as colorectal, breast, cervical, prostate and hepatocellular carcinoma," Reeves said. Your doctor can help administer the screening and interpret your results.

Not exercising

According to the National Cancer Institute, physical activity is known to reduce the risk of at least 12 types of cancer. The American Cancer Society advises at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise (i.e., exercise that gets your heart rate up) each week. Outside of those guidelines, the type of exercise is up to you. Choose a type of exercise you enjoy so it's easier and more fun to stick to your routine!

Binge drinking

Drinking a glass of wine here and there probably won't kill you (and could actually offer a few health benefits) but drinking heavily could put your health in real danger. According to the National Cancer Institute, drinking alcohol increases your risk of at least six types of cancer. What's worse? The more you drink, the higher your risk. If you drink often, keep the quantity to a minimum.

Reusing plastic water bottles

Buying yourself a reusable water bottle is a great way to reduce plastic waste and stay hydrated. But don't reuse a plastic water bottle. If the plastic leaks certain chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), it could raise your breast cancer risk, according to To reduce your BPA exposure, opt for a glass, metal or ceramic water bottle instead.

Sleeping with the TV on

Some people accidentally fall asleep in front of the TV. Others feel that they need the TV on to fall asleep at all. Both of these should be avoided, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Being exposed to light overnight from the flashing screen could increase your risk of breast cancer. Instead of relying on the background noise of your TV to lull you to sleep, try one of these tricks to prepare your body and your brain for sleep instead.

Forgetting to brush or floss

Your smile isn't the only thing that will suffer if you don't take good care of your teeth. According to research from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, inflammation of the gums and gum disease are correlated with colorectal and lung cancer. "Poor oral hygiene has been linked to several health conditions, including heart disease and some cancers," said Dr. Graham. Make sure to brush twice daily - and floss, too!

Not going to the dentist

"Your dentist is also a first line of defense when it comes to spotting signs of oral cancers," Dr. Graham said. "Getting regular dental checkups and brushing and flossing regularly are key to maintaining good health."

Eating lots of processed meat

Frequently consuming processed meats such as hot dogs, cold cuts and bacon could increase your risk of cancer, according to some studies. If the risk of cancer isn't enough to convince you, you may also want to consider these other negative effects of processed meat.

Not eating fruits and vegetables

Dietary guidelines recommend multiple servings of fruits and vegetables each day, and for good reason. Aside from all the other reasons your body needs the vitamins and minerals from these foods, it's important to keep in mind that these foods can help reduce your risk of cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends aiming for at least 2 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables every day. Get a variety of colors on your plate and try using fresh produce in recipes at home. All 50 of these healthy foods have been linked to a lower risk of cancer, so take your pick!

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