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Publix GreenWise Market Magazine
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Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - Fall 2011

Suprising Ways to Cut Your Cancer Risk

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From dousing the night-light to shaking a salt habit, these unexpected strategies may give you an edge against illness.

Death rates for many cancers are declining, mostly thanks to better treatments and early detection, according to the National Cancer Institute. But another key factor is the way Americans are improving their lifestyles and shedding bad habits, particularly smoking. Even if you’ve never picked up a cigarette, the choices you make every day can directly impact your odds of staying cancer-free.

For six of the most effective ways to reduce your cancer risk, go to the end of the article. Then add these seven less-familiar strategies to tip the scales even further in your favor.

1. SLEEP IN THE DARK  In 2007 the World Health Organization called night shift work a “probable carcinogen.” Research based on the Nurses’ Health Study found that nurses who worked night shifts had higher rates of breast and colorectal cancer, according to lead researcher Eva S. Schernhammer, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. One theory is that sleeping in a well-lighted room decreases production of melatonin, a cancer-protective hormone. Whether you work days or nights, sleep in a dark, quiet place (consider wearing eyeshades if necessary). For those who can’t avoid bright sleeping conditions, Schernhammer recommends getting regular screenings and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

2. DON'T OVERDO THE PICKLES  There’s a strong correlation between a diet high in smoked, salty and pickled foods and cancer, notably stomach and, possibly, colorectal cancers. Salty foods also may increase the risk of Helicobacter pylori infection. Limit yourself to 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day; the average American consumes two to three times that much. Beware: Cereals, soups and even cookies may contain high levels of sodium. Cutting down on salt also helps lower blood pressure.
3. ASK ABOUT YOUR ULCER  Scientists still don’t fully understand why some people get stomach cancer, but Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium linked to some ulcers, is a prime suspect. If you have an ulcer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you ask your doctor about the benefit of being tested for H. pylori and getting treatment if you are infected.

4. FLOSS DAILY  Several studies have drawn a link between cancer and periodontitis, a serious form of gum disease. In 2009, researchers from The State University of New York reported a connection between periodontitis and certain head and neck cancers. Another study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2007, linked the gum disease to pancreatic cancer. Fortunately, preventing periodontitis isn’t difficult. The American Dental Association recommends brushing and flossing daily, getting regular dental checkups and avoiding tobacco.

5. GET RID OF RADON  Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that’s found in almost all rock, soil and water. Exposure to radon in the home causes approximately 20,000 lung cancer deaths every year, especially among smokers, and is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Testing your home for radon is simple, and according to the EPA, most problems can be fixed for an average cost of $1,200, depending on the extent of the problem and the rates in your area. Any house – old, new, drafty, with or without a basement and in any part of the country – can be affected. Visit epa.gov/radon to learn more.
6. AVOID UNNECESSARY SCANS  A CT (computed tomography) scan is a highly sensitive type of X-ray used to look for problems like infections, tumors and blood clots. However, it delivers much more radiation than other diagnostic scans and may increase your risk of cancer, especially once you’ve had more than 5 to 10 scans. A 2009 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine projected that approximately 29,000 future cancers could be related to CT scans performed in 2007 alone.

Some doctors are concerned that CT scans are being overused. To minimize the risk, tell your doctor about any previous scans you’ve had, and discuss whether an ultrasound or MRI can be substituted. Be especially cautious about scans for children, a practice that has risen dramatically in recent years. Kids are more sensitive to radiation, and their long life expectancies give radiation damage more time to cause cancer. It’s also smart to have the scan done at a radiology lab accredited by the American College of Radiology. “If you need a test for a significant medical problem, you shouldn’t resist getting it done,” says Lincoln Berland, M.D., professor of radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In these cases, says Berland, “the benefits far outweigh the risks.

7. CONSIDER GENETIC TESTING  If you have a significant family or personal history of breast or colorectal cancer, you may want to get tested for cancer marker genes. Although these tests can’t prevent cancer, they may help you catch the disease at a more treatable stage. A certified genetic counselor can explain what test(s) apply to your situation, their accuracy and the implications of the results. Tests range in cost from $100 to $2,000 or more, and new tests are being developed all the time. “We’re not to the point yet that everyone should get their genes mapped, but we’re advancing rapidly,” says Edward Partridge, M.D., president of the American Cancer Society. To learn more, visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors at nsgc.org 
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