Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

The Staff of Asclepius (Asklepios) (1, 8, 11):

Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Coronis and a practitioner of medicine in ancient Greek mythology. He became known as the God of Medicine and Healing in the early Greek religion. Asclepius is traditionally depicted as a bearded man wearing a robe that leaves his chest uncovered and holding a staff with his sacred single serpent coiled around it, symbolizing renewal of youth as the serpent casts off its skin. The single serpent staff also appears on a Sumerian vase of c. 2000 B.C. representing the healing god Ningishita, the prototype of the Greek Asklepios.

The Asclepius Wand, often confused with the Caduceus wand of Hermes, is the correct and traditional symbol of the medical profession. The staff, also known as the asklepian, is a rough-hewn knotty tree limb and an ancient symbol associated with astrology, Asclepius, medicine, and healing. Asclepius’ attributes, the snake and staff, sometimes depicted separately in antiquity, are combined in this symbol. Hippocrates himself was a worshipper of Asclepius.

The most famous temple of Asclepius was at Epidaurus in north-eastern Peloponnese. Other healing temples (or asclepieions) were located on the island of Kos, where Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” may have begun his career, and in Trikala, Gortys (in Arcadia), and Pergamum in Asia.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in developed countries, according to the World Health Organization. Research from the National Cancer Institute suggests that cancer may affect one in two men and one in three women at some point in their lives. Many cancer-causing agents have been identified, and at least one-third of all cancer cases are preventable. Prevention is the most cost-effective, long-term strategy for reducing your risk of cancer. By making some basic lifestyle changes, such as exercising, eating healthy, limiting sun exposure, and refraining from alcohol and tobacco use, you can improve your health and prevent most forms of cancer (2).

Tips to reduce your risk of cancer:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings a day), legumes (beans, lentils, nuts, seeds), and whole grains: These provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients that promote good health and immunity, fiber for regularity, and help you maintain a healthy weight. When possible, select organic fruits and vegetables to reduce your ingestion of pesticide residues. Exposure to pesticides has been associated with an increased risk of autism, learning disabilities, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, weight gain, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders, and premature births. Avoid foods made with refined white flour, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sugar, and modified food starch, such as white bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, sugary pastries, and prepared mixes, since these provide a high glycemic load which increases blood sugar and vascular inflammation. Instead, choose 100% natural, preservative-free, high-fiber whole grains which produce a low glycemic load that does not raise blood sugar and are more heart-healthy.
  2. Eat more leafy green vegetables, such as collard, mustard, and turnip greens, kale, watercress, bok choy, spinach, broccoli rabe, Chinese/Napa cabbage, brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, and arugula: These are wonderful sources of vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants.
  3. Limit your fat intake, particularly saturated animal fat, since high-fat, high-calorie diets increase the risk of obesity, vascular inflammation and damage (atherosclerosis), and cancer.
  4. Avoid “trans fats” like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (examples: cottonseed, soybean) and tropical oils (examples: coconut, palm): Always read the “Nutrition Facts” label on packages of bread, cakes, cookies, crackers, pita bread, tortillas, wraps, pizza dough, prepared mixes, etc., and examine all the fats listed. If the label lists trans fat as 0 grams, look at the ingredients list for the words “partially hydrogenated.” Any oil that is partially hydrogenated is a trans fat. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits food manufacturers to advertise that their product contains 0 grams of trans fat, as long as each serving provides 0.5 grams of trans fat or less per serving. In other words, a single serving of cookies could have as much as a half gram of trans fat and be labeled “0 trans fats.” Keep in mind that a “single serving” is often less than an average person would eat. Also note that trans fat occurs naturally in saturated animal fat and that saturated fat is unhealthy. Therefore, when choosing foods with “0 grams trans fats,” evaluate the total fat content including the amount of saturated fat. Select foods that have the least amount of saturated fat and that use healthy fats such as olive or canola oil in the product (13).
  5. Reduce your salt intake: Excess sodium irritates and inflames the lining of blood vessels, and raises the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stomach cancer. Since most of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods and restaurant meals, avoid “convenience”  foods as much as possible, and request that your restaurant meal be prepared without salt, salted seasonings, cheese, or sauces.
  6. Reduce your intake of processed or cured meat, as well as red meat: Processed meats are considered any that have been salted, cured, smoked, or treated with preservatives, and include bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, salami, and sausage. Excess consumption of red and preserved meat has been associated with an increased risk of colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers.
  7. Avoid eating grilled, charred, or burnt food: Grilled, charred, and very well-done meats can contain cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs), formed when meat is seared at high temperatures, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which enter food when it is charcoal-broiled. If you do grill, marinate meat for at least 1 hour before cooking, in a marinade containing antioxident-rich rosemary and thyme. These spices appear to reduce or slow down the formation of HCAs (12).
  8. Limit your ingestion of fish high in contaminants, mercury, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): Refer to “Superfoods for Good Health and Weight Loss”on
  9. Avoid tobacco, as well as, places where smoking occurs: Tobacco, in the form of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and snuff, is the most common cause of cancer deaths in developing countries (2). In the United States, cigarette smoking causes about 90% of lung cancer deaths in men and 80% in women. Lung cancer death rates in the United States mirror smoking patterns, with increases in smoking followed by dramatic increases in lung cancer death rates. Smoking also causes cancer of the mouth, esophagus, voice box (larynx), bladder, kidney, pancreas, stomach, cervix, as well as acute myelogenous leukemia. Second-hand smoke has been proven to cause lung cancer in non-smoking adults (4).
  10. Reduce your alcohol intake: Alcohol intake should be limited to no more than two drinks per day for men, and one per day for women, and preferably should be less than this; a drink is defined as one 12-ounce beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Moderate or no consumption is best for your heart and overall health and well-being. Alcohol use is a risk factor for many cancers, including cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast. Risk of cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. The risk from heavy drinking for several cancer types (e.g. oral cavity, pharynx, larynx and esophagus) substantially increases if the person is also a heavy smoker. For both pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer, the risk starts at less than one drink per day! If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
  11. Avoid vitamin/mineral supplements, unless directed by your doctor to take them: The National Cancer Institute recently reported that vitamin E supplementation has been associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. It is always better to obtain nutrients naturally from a variety of wholesome, unprocessed foods, rather than pills (5, 9).
  12. Reduce exposure to chemicals, such as deodorants and antiperspirants containing aluminum, perfumes containing phthalates, household cleaning products, chemical pesticides and insecticides, scratched non-stick pans, etc.: Choose more natural, organic products when possible.
  13. Avoid using liquid antibacterial soaps containing “Triclosan” or fabric products containing “Microban,” since these are hormone disruptors which may pose additional negative health effects.
  14. Engage in 20-30 minutes of physical activity each day: Regular physical activity, having a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly lower your risk of cancer. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a brisk walk or hike, try Tai Chi, yoga, swimming, dancing, or go for a bicycle ride (wearing a helmet of course).
  15. Expose your skin to 20 minutes of sunlight each day, so your body can produce vitamin D naturally: Vitamin D has been associated with improved immunity, decreased cancer risk, and a better sense of well-being. Good food sources include cod liver oil, wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel, sardines, eel, milk fortified with vitamin D, and eggs.
  16. Open windows and ventilate your residence well, after it has been freshly painted or carpeted, treated with chemicals or pesticides, or had it’s hardwood floors sanded or polyurethaned.
  17. Drink at least 8 cups of water each day to lower your risk of bladder cancer: Water dilutes the concentration of cancer-causing agents in the urine and helps to flush them through the bladder and out of the body.
  18. Eat foods naturally rich in calcium, such as non-fat or low-fat yogurt, kefir, and milk: Such foods promote digestive tract health and provide protein, calcium, phosphorus, probiotics in the case of kefir and yogurt, and vitamins A and D when fortified. Additionally, the calcium in these foods appears to lower the risk of new precancerous colon polyps.
  19. Know your personal and family medical history: Some cancers, like breast, colon, ovarian, and possibly others, can be hereditary. Inform your doctor, so that you can receive proper screening, genetic testing if necessary, and guidance on how to reduce your risk (3).
  20. Regular self-exams and professional screening for various types of cancers, such as cancer of the skin, colon, prostate, cervix and breast, can increase your chances of discovering cancer early, when treatment is most likely to be successful: Check your body for any new, unusual, asymmetric, or multi-colored, beauty marks, as well as lumps and puckered skin. Perform a breast self-examination each day. Ask your doctor about the best cancer screening schedule for you, based on your medical history and age.
  21. Avoid excessive sun exposure: Skin cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer and one of the most preventable. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, in particular solar radiation, is carcinogenic to humans, causing all major types of skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. When you do go outside, stay in the shade as much as possible. Wear sunglasses, a broad-rimmed hat, and tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Select bright, or dark colors, which reflect more ultraviolet radiation than pastels or bleached cotton. Use generous amounts of a broad-spectrum sunscreen (at least SPF 15) sunscreen when outdoors, and reapply it often. Avoid indoor tanning beds and sun lamps (3).
  22. Use gloves when gardening, washing the car or pet, and handling any household chemicals.
  23. Reduce your exposure to hair dyes, and dyes in general, especially dark or strongly-colored dyes.
  24. Avoid unnecessary x-rays and cat-scans: Radiation is energy in the form of high-speed particles or electromagnetic waves. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation and/or ionizing radiation can cause cancer. The risk is higher the younger an individual is at the time of exposure. Solar ultraviolet radiation exposure increases the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancers, the most common malignancies in human populations. The major sources of exposure to ionizing radiation are medical radiation (including x-rays, computed tomography [CT], fluoroscopy, and nuclear medicine and naturally occurring radon gas in the basements of homes. Ionizing radiation exposure has increased during the last 20 years as a result of the dramatic increase in the use of CT. Exposure to ionizing radiation associated with CT is in the range where carcinogenesis has been demonstrated. Note that damage from radiation exposure is cumulative. High radiation doses, or frequent exposure to radiation, will increase the risk of leukemia, thyroid cancer, and other health problems.
  25. When medical advice is needed or screening tests must be done, choose an experienced, well-trained, and reputable physician with excellent credentials to evaluate your health.
  26. Minimize the use of cell phones and other wireless technology to reduce your exposure to electromagnetic radio waves.
  27. Reduce your exposure to the dry cleaning chemical perchloroethylene (PERC): Wear clothing that can be hand- or machine-washed and dried. For items that must be dry-cleaned, seek establishments that use “organic” methods, wet cleaning, or liquid CO2, which pose fewer health risks. Otherwise, air-out dry cleaned clothing in fresh air for several hours before wearing.
  28. Use stainless steel pans and pots for food preparation and try to limit the use of nonstick cookware and plastics.
  29. Minimize or avoid cooking, microwaving, and storing food in plastic containers whenever possible: Choose stainless steel, ceramic, and glass (“Pyrex” ) cookware and serveware, instead.
  30. Handwash plastic cups, dishes, flatware in the sink, rather than in the dishwasher: The high heat of the dishwater can deteriorate the plastic and allow plasticizers to leach out.
  31. Have your drinking water tested and use the best water filtration system that you can afford: Remember to change the filter as necessary.
  32. Increase your exposure to fresh air as much as possible.
  33. Immunize and avoid high-risk behavior: Some viral infections associated with cancers can be easily prevented through immunization. The World Health Organization warns that certain infections passed on through risky behavior (mainly sexually or through sharing contaminated needles) will increase chances of cancer. These include Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis B and C (liver cancer), and Human Papillomavirus (or HPV). Research has confirmed that HPV spreads through both oral and genital contact, increasing the risk of genital warts, as well as cancer of the oropharyngeal region (malignancies of the tonsils, soft palate, throat, and base of the tongue), cervix, penis and anus. Stay in a monogamous relationship, use condoms, maintain regular dental check-ups including an oral soft-tissue exam, see your doctor for any suspicious, persistent lumps, difficulty swallowing, unexplained weight loss, mouth or ear pain, blisters, sores, ulcers, white patches, or other abnormalities (2, 3).
  34. Try to get 8-10 hours of sleep each night to improve your stamina and immunity.
  35. Support efforts to protect the environment, e.g., aquifers, agricultural and drinking water, air quality, soil, croplands, and food supply, from carcinogens and other toxins: Let your congressmen know that you are against forms of energy production that threaten environmental and human health, like hydraulic fracturing which increases the risk of air and water pollution, environmental degradation, seismic activity, earthquakes, cancer, leukemia and other blood abnormalities, birth defects, miscarriage, asthma, and genetic defects.
  36. Find out what you are being exposed at work: Chemicals in the workplace may increase your risk of developing many types of cancer, including kidney cancer and bladder cancer. If you are exposed to fumes, dust, and/or chemicals at work, you have a legal right to know what you are being exposed to. Gasoline, diesel exhaust, arsenic, beryllium, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, mustard gas, and chloromethyl ethers are all carcinogens and can be found in some work environments. Talk to your employer about limiting exposure (2, 3).

Wishing you good health and happiness throughout the New Year!

Sincerely, Diane

  1. “Asclepius.” Wikipedia the free encyclopedia. 01/10/12. (Source:
  2. “Cancer prevention.” World Health Organization. Geneva, Switerland. 2012. (Source:
  3. “Cancer Prevention: 7 tips to reduce your risk.” Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic Housecall and Mayo Clinic Health Manager. 08/02/11. (Source:
  4. “Cancer Prevention and Control: Other Ways to Reduce Cancer Risk.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 02/10/11. (Source:
  5. “Dietary Supplements Fail to Prevent Prostate Cancer.” (Source: http//
  6. Fayed, Lisa. ” Top 10 Ways to Prevent Cancer: Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Help Prevent Cancer.” 07/27/09. (Source: Guide)
  7. Fayed, Lisa. “Top 10 Fun Ways to Prevent Cancer Through Exercise.” 11/14/10. (Source: Guide)
  8. “Healing Symbols and Their Meanings. 2012. (Source:
  9. Klein, E.A., I.M. Thompson, C.M. Tangen, J.J. Crowley, M.S. Lucia, P.J. Goodman, L. Minasian, L.G. Ford, H.L. Parnes, J.M. Gaziano, D.D. Karp, M.M. Lieber, P.J. Walther, L. Klotz, J.K. Parsons, J.L. Chin, A. Darke, S.M. Lippman, G.E. Goodman, F.L. Meyskens, and L.H. Baker. “Vitamin E and the Risk of Prostate Cancer: Results of the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT).” Journal of the American Medical Association: 306 (14). 10/12/11. pp. 1549-1556.
  10. Main, Emily. “Cancer Prevention Diet: Four Eating Strategies that Prevent Cancer: Staying cancer-free could be a matter of following four broad rules when you decide what put on your plate.” Rodale News. 04/19/10. (Source: “Cancer Prevention Diet: Four Eating Strategies that Prevent Cancer.”
  11. “Rod of Asclepius.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 01/10/12. (Source:
  12. “Twenty Ways to Prevent Cancer: Certain cancer-fighting foods and other healthy habits can dramatically lower your cancer risk.” Prevention Magazine. (Source:
  13. “Understanding Trans Fats: What are Trans Fats? Food Sources and Daily Limits.” WebMD. 02/25/10. (Source:



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