As many as 40 per cent of cancers can be prevented by changes in lifestyle. Dr Khoo Kei Siong, Deputy Medical Director from Parkway Cancer Centre, shows how the risk of cancer can be reduced.
1. Protect yourself
Early detection is critical, and screening can help you avoid a long battle with cancer by detecting signs of it at an early stage so that preemptive action can be taken. This may be done through medical examinations or tests.
For colorectal cancer – the most common cancer in Singapore – for instance, someone with average risk should take a stool blood test (FIT or Faecal Immunochemical Test) starting at the age of 50, a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, and colonoscopy every 10 years. More regular screening is advised for those with higher risk.
Women should undertake screening for breast cancer regularly. This starts with self-examination of your own breasts, and annual mammograms from the age of 40. Pap smears for cervical cancer are also advised for women between the ages of 25 and 69 who have had sex.
Another measure one can take is vaccination, which can help prevent cancers linked to viral infections – for example, Hepatitis B, which can lead to liver cancer and HPV (Human Papillomavirus) which can lead to cervical and other genital cancers.
Avoiding skin cancer, meanwhile, simply means avoiding overexposure to the sun. Skin cancers can often be found on parts of the body that are exposed – face, hands, forearms and ears. If you exercise outdoors, it is best to avoid over-exposure between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest. Cover up with a cap and clothing, and use a strong sunscreen.
2. Lead a healthy lifestyle
Studies have linked a healthy weight to lower risk of some cancers such as breast, colorectal and rectum, and oesophageal cancer. According to World Health Organization guidelines, Asians with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 23 or more face higher risks of cancer, while a BMI of 27.5 or more can mean a high risk. A BMI in the healthy range – between 18.5 and 23 – can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases and cancers.
To keep your weight down, exercise regularly, and be as physically active as often as possible. At the same time, try to limit habits that are sedentary – whether it’s watching TV or playing computer games. You can start with moderately physical activities such as brisk walking 30 minutes three times a week, and raise it to 60 minutes of moderate or 30 minutes of vigorous activity, such as jogging every day.
Not smoking – or giving it up – is one of the most effective ways of preventing lung cancer, which is one of the biggest causes of cancer deaths in Singapore. A large majority of lung cancer sufferers are smokers – less than 10 per cent of lung cancers occur among non-smokers. Avoiding tobacco can also help reduce the risk of liver, pharynx, oesophagus and stomach cancers.
3. Eat healthy
Maintaining a healthy diet can go a long way in helping prevent cancer. This means more plant-based food – vegetables and fruits – and less meats and processed foods, which have been linked to higher incidences of cancer.
A healthy diet should include a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. More specifically, studies have shown that garlic, grapes, blueberries, broccoli, cauliflower and green tea are able to repair damaged cells and help prevent cancer.
High-fibre content is also good for your digestive system, and wholegrain and bean products contain phytochemicals that protect cells from damage. As a guideline, try to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day.
At the same time, eat less meats and processed foods. Red meat, animal fats and processed meats – for example ham, bacon and sausages – have been linked to cancers such as bowel or colorectal cancer. Studies have suggested that reducing your intake of processed meat can cut the risk of getting bowel cancers by 10 per cent.
Alcohol also increases the risk of cancers such as mouth, oesophageal, kidney, colon, breast and liver cancers. The more you take and the longer you do so regularly, the higher the risk.
Drink alcohol in moderation, and limit yourself to two servings per day for men and one serving per day for women.
Tags: healthy food & cooking, healthy lifestyle, hepatitis cancer, prevent cancer, reduce cancer risk, vaccination