10 Surprising Ways to Reduce Cancer Risk

Jacqueline Ho | Aug 21st 2014

Reviewed by Todd Gersten, MD

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Lifestyle factors typically can play a large role in warding off health problems and many studies speak to the benefits of specific foods and exercises. But, what about lesser known ways to stay healthy? Here are 10 ways to reduce your cancer risk — some of which may surprise you.

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Cut back on the BBQ

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Many studies have found a link between red meat consumption and risk of certain types of cancer. And, meat that is charred, burned, or grilled over high temperatures may be especially dangerous, as it can cause heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form. HCAs may cause genetic damage and increase risk of stomach and colorectal cancers.

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Limit shift work

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Women who regularly work night shifts may be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer — although most research says that it takes about 30 years of consistent night shift work to lead to increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers believe that long-term exposure to artificial lighting can suppress melatonin production, which may increase cancer risk.

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Talk to your hair stylist

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Many studies suggest that regular exposure to chemicals found in semi-permanent and permanent dyes may increase cancer risk. Some studies have particularly focused on the potential link between hair dyes and blood cancers — such as leukemia and lymphoma — and bladder cancer. To be safe, let your hair go natural or talk to your hairdresser about safer alternatives.

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Consider contraception alternatives

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Evidence does not conclude that using birth control pills causes breast cancer, but research has found that women who use them may have a 10 to 30 percent higher risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them. Studies also show that women who stop taking the pill can reduce their risk of cancer over time. Speak with your doctor about the safety of oral contraceptives and safer alternatives.

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Get more sun

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You’re probably well aware that getting too much sun can lead to skin cancer. But recent research has found that getting too little sun may also be dangerous. One study showed that low sun exposure and low vitamin D levels were linked to more aggressive skin cancers. Most people should aim to get a daily dose of natural sunlight. Of course, don’t go overboard — limit prolonged exposure and always wear sunscreen.

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Drink quality coffee

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Instant coffee can contain acrylamide, a chemical compound shown to be linked to cancer in animal studies. The chemical has also been found to cause nerve damage, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research on the effects of acrylamide is still preliminary, but it has been confirmed that ground, filtered coffee contains smaller amounts of the chemical than instant coffee.

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Don't eat too much fish

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There’s no question that there are health benefits to eating fish. But, for some people, eating too much fish may be a problem. Some research has found that males with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood may be at a greater risk of developing prostate cancer. Men should speak with their doctor about appropriate fish intake and whether omega-3 supplements are safe.

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Stop smoking

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The evidence is clear: smoking increases risk of cancer and leads to numerous other health complications. However, e-cigarettes may not be a safe alternative. Some studies have found that e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco contain certain chemicals and toxins that may contribute to risk of cancer. E-cigarettes, for example, contain a toxic chemical found in antifreeze and numerous cancer-causing chemicals.

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Rinse your brown rice

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Just as you wash your fruits and vegetables before eating them, you need to rinse your grains. Brown rice in particular has been found to contain higher levels of arsenic — a carcinogen—than other grains. Long-term health risks remain unclear, but experts recommend that you wash brown rice, white rice, and other grains before cooking.

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Watch what you drink from

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A chemical found in foam coffee cups and take-out containers, called styrene, is considered to be a possible human carcinogen. Other products that contain styrene include fiberglass, some car parts, insulation, and other food containers. Long-term exposure has been linked to cancers of the esophagus and pancreas, according to some studies.