Knowing which lifestyle factors have an impact on cancer risk worldwide is important, but how can you tell which factors actually affect your life?
You can start by looking at the list of modifiable risk factors and asking yourself how you measure up. Remember, these are risk factors you can control. While you should feel good about the positive lifestyle decisions you've made, you also know when you are doing something that isn't good for your health. It's important to be honest with yourself.
Is your weight higher than it should be? Do you know your body mass index (BMI)? Do you smoke even the occasional cigarette? Do you exercise regularly? Do you know the difference between moderate alcohol intake and problem drinking?
If you're less than totally honest with yourself, you're not alone. One survey showed that only 39% of obese adults described themselves as obese. If you are only dealing with a couple of extra pounds right now, it might not be a problem. But adding a pound or two every year with the promise to "take it off in the summer" can add up over time, and that extra weight may eventually add up to a big health problem.
If you only smoke the occasional cigarette, you may be telling yourself it doesn't carry the same health risks as being a regular smoker. But "social" smokers should beware. Even light smoking (5 or fewer cigarettes per day) can carry a hefty health toll, increasing your risk of dying from lung cancer and other ailments.
But acknowledging you could improve in certain areas and actually doing something about it are two different things. After all, why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? Making different lifestyle decisions can be very difficult. These are habits that have developed over years and understanding their effect on your chances of developing cancer and changing them isn't always easy.
If you're confused about how these risk factors may affect you, ask your doctor.
The next time your doctor asks you questions about your lifestyle – for example, if you smoke or if you exercise regularly – be honest. Admitting your habits aren't always the healthiest can feel embarrassing, but your doctor is there to help, not judge. When it comes to getting help to make the changes you need to cut your cancer risk, your doctor is a valuable resource, but they can only help you make those changes if you tell them what areas you need help with. There's no health benefit to sticking your head in the sand.
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