Ask a random person on the street to name one or two things off the top of their head about cancer, and it's unlikely you'd hear "it's preventable." But if there's one key scientific finding over the past two decades that has the greatest potential to have a positive impact on cancer, it's just that: 50 percent or more of all cancer is preventable by things we can do.
And the steps are surprisingly straightforward. No need to be an Olympic marathoner or a dietician or a doctor to unleash their benefits. They're things nearly all of us can start to work on. Distilled down to eight key messages, they are:
Maintain a healthy weight. More than 100,000 cancer cases are caused each year by obesity. Keeping your weight in check can have huge benefits. A great place to start is with regular exercise. Choosing smaller portions and eating more slowly can help keep appetite in check.
Exercise regularly. Practically a mantra for good health, exercise lowers the risk of both breast and colon cancer. Shoot for at least 30 minutes a day. Choose things you enjoy and find a friend to workout with.
Don't smoke. It's an oldie but goody. Close to one-fifth of people still smoke, and it remains the single most important cause of cancer. If you smoke, stop. It's hard, but keep trying. It can take six or seven attempts to quit for good.
Eat a healthy diet. Diet and obesity together cause as many cancer deaths as smoking. The crux of a cancer prevention diet: calories. As in, don't eat more than you burn every day. Other good points: focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and eat less red meat and store-bought snacks.
Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all. Yes. Moderate drinking can be good for the heart, but it can also increase cancer risk. If you don't drink, don't feel that you need to start. If you do drink, keep it sensible (one drink/day or less for women, two drinks/day or less for men).
Protect yourself from the sun and don't use tanning beds. UV tanning of all types boosts skin cancer risk, including deadly melanoma. Rates of melanoma are rising quickly, particularly in young adult women. Never indoor tan, and when out in the sun, use hats, long-sleeve shirts, and broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Protect yourself from sexually-transmitted infections. Infections can fly under the radar as an important risk factor for cancer, but they cause around 4 to 7 percent of cancers in the U.S. Safe sex practices can help lower risk. The HPV vaccine -- for girls and boys alike -- provides good protection against cervical, penile, anal and oral cancer later in life.
Get screening tests. Screening can help find cancer early and even prevent certain cancers. Key screening test include those for breast, colon, and cervical cancer. Talk to a doctor about which screening tests are right for you.
For more tips and tricks for lowering your risk, visit: http://www.cancernewsincontext.org/p/cancer.html
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and lesscancer.org, in recognition of both WorldCancer Day and National Cancer Prevention Day (both Feb. 4), and in conjunction with lesscancer.org's panel oncancer in Washington that day. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information aboutlesscancer.org, click here.