If you could avoid cancer, wouldn’t you?

In some cases, establishing healthy behaviors and eliminating unhealthy ones can not only improve your overall health, but it can decrease your risk factors for a cancer diagnosis, according to Deb Walker, APRN, of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute Survivorship Program.

“According to a Harvard study, close to half of the cancer cases in the United States could be prevented by maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors,” she says.

Walker shares five of the biggest risk factors for developing cancer, and how a few positive lifestyle modifications could make a big difference.

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Smoking is the most preventable cause of cancer worldwide. It’s been linked with at least 15 different types of cancer – including obvious ones like lung, mouth and throat and less obvious ones like kidney, stomach and colon. In addition, evidence suggests smoking might also affect cancer treatment.

When you quit smoking, your blood pressure and heart rate return to normal in 20 minutes and circulation and lung function improve within 3 months. After a year, your risk of heart disease is cut in half.

As far as cancer goes, quitting smoking reduces the risk of mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder cancers by half in five years. In 10 years, the risk of death from lung cancer is about half of a person who still smokes.


Obesity is responsible for about 11% of cancers in women, 5% in men and 7% of all cancer deaths. Studies link obesity with with 13 types of cancer including breast, colorectal, uterine, ovarian, pancreatic, liver and stomach.

Dropping your BMI to 18.5 to 27.5 reduces the risk of cancer. Cancer.net actually notes that losing as little as 5% of your total body weight can reduce your cancer risk.

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Physical inactivity

An American Institute of Cancer Research study found a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of colon, endometrial and lung cancers.

People who log 150+ minutes of moderate activity weekly have lower risk of cancer and conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Exercise can also prevent cancer from coming back.

Unhealthy eating

A Journal of the National Cancer Institute Spectrum study connected a significant number of cancer cases with poor diet. In fact, 80,110 new adult cancer cases in 2015 were due to an unhealthy diet.

A diet filled with various vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and other plant foods lowers your risk of cancer. Limit red meat, sugary and salty foods, and add omega-3 rich foods like fish, nuts and soybeans.

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Alcohol use

Healthcare professionals agree that drinking alcohol can cause several types of cancer, including head/neck, esophageal, liver, breast and colorectal.