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  • Writer's pictureStaci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

Five healthy lifestyle factors that may help you reduce your cancer risk today

According to recent stats from the American Cancer Society, 2,001,140 new cancer cases and 611,720 cancer deaths are projected to occur in 2024 in the United States. With May being Cancer Research Awareness Month, I thought it would be best to talk about what you can do to help reduce your risk of certain cancers.

It's important to note that some factors such as genetic predisposition may not be in your control. However, there are several things you can do to help reduce inflammation in your body and in turn help reduce risk of certain cancers. Read below to learn more about what you can do today to help lower your

cancer risk.

Eat more plant-based foods daily.

It's no surprise that eating more plants in your daily eating plan can help reduce cancer risk. Research shows that adding more plant-based foods to your daily routine, along with exercise, can help lower risk of certain cancers like breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer (2,3). Experts suggest that those at risk for cancer should adopt a healthy diet consisting of:

  • Three or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily each

  • Lean proteins like poultry and fish twice weekly

  • Limit intake of red meats and processed meats (deli meat, sausage) to no more than once weekly

  • Consume at least three servings of whole grain foods daily

  • Limit intake of refined grains like white breads and pasta to less than two servings daily

  • Avoid added sugar intake

One serving of fruits and vegetables is equal to 1/2 cup cooked vegetables or 1 cup fresh, raw vegetables, while one serving of fruit is equal to 1/2 cup diced fresh fruit or 1 medium piece of fruit. When it comes to whole grains, one serving is equal to:

  • 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal

  • 1/2 cup cooked rice or quinoa

  • 1 cup dry cereal

  • 1 ounce slice of bread

Stay active daily.

Staying active is good for any healthy lifestyle routine. This is especially true for those at risk for cancer or undergoing cancer treatment. Research shows that those that increased their physical activity and reduced smoking and alcohol use had lower risk of gastrointestinal diseases like colorectal cancer (4,5). Also, a 2023 study shows that decreased physical activity was linked to a higher risk of developing breast cancer (6).

Stop smoking or don't start.

Smoking is not healthy no matter how you look at it. The act of smoking and anything you can smoke induces inflammatory processes (7). These processes can in turn increase risk of chronic diseases including cancer and reduce immune function (8).

Although cannabis smoking can help reduce nausea in some cancer patients, long-term smoking of any kind can damage the lungs over time (9, 10). Therefore in such cases, edible forms of THC for nausea may be best (11).

Cut out alcohol.

Just like smoking, research shows that there is no health benefit to drinking alcohol (12). Although some may claim it helps them relax, this is actually not true. Experts report that although you may feel a temporary sense of relaxation after drinking alcohol, over time it can actually make it harder for you to cope with stress without it, which may lead to dependence (13,14).

Not to mention that it can disrupt sleep and cause you to have lower quality sleep (15). Also, health experts suggest that the higher your blood alcohol level, the increased risk for negative mood changes and impaired behavior as well as increased risk for anxiety and depression (14). Cutting out alcohol intake shows promise to help reduce risk of certain cancers like colorectal, breast, pancreatic, lung, and bladder cancer (4,6).

Reduce saturated fat intake.

Any heart healthy diet will recommend a lower saturated fat intake. And since both heart disease and cancer are inflammation-linked, then lowering such harmful fat intake may help lower risk of cancer too (16,17). Experts from the Mesothelioma Center also recommend reducing red meat and saturated fat intake and instead adding lean proteins like poultry, eggs, fish, beans, nuts, and nut butter to your daily routine (18).


Along with these five lifestyle factors, experts suggest trying to maintain a healthy weight. And by healthy weight, this means reducing body mass index (BMI) below 30. The body mass index is not a perfect measure for body fat, but it's the one that most people can access with the click of a mouse to estimate this factor. You can use the BMI calculator from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for an easy measure of your BMI using just your height and weight.

For more information on how you can reduce your cancer risk, use resources like, the American Institute for Cancer Research, or the Anti-cancer lifestyle website, to name a few. And if you want to support cancer research or keep up to date with cancer research, you can access the American Association for Cancer Research website for more information.


1.) Siegel, MPH, R.L., Giaquinto, MSPH, A.N., Jemal, DVM, Ph.D., A. (2024) Cancer Statistics, 2024, Volume 74, Issue 1, pages 12-49.

2.) Loeb, S., Hua, Q., Bauer, S. R., Kenfield, S. A., Morgans, A. K., Chan, J. M., Van Blarigan, E. L., Shreves, A. H., & Mucci, L. A. (2024). Plant-based diet associated with better quality of life in prostate cancer survivors. Cancer, 130(9), 1618–1628.

3.) Zilong BianRongqi ZhangShuai YuanRong Fan, Lijuan WangSusanna C. LarssonEvropi TheodoratouYimin ZhuShouling WuYuan DingXue Li (2024) Healthy lifestyle and cancer survival: A multinational cohort study, International Journal of Cancer, Volume 154, Issue10, pages 1709-1718.

4.) Botteri, E., Peveri, G., Berstad, P., Bagnardi, V., Chen, S. L. F., Sandanger, T. M., Hoff, G., Dahm, C. C., Antoniussen, C. S., Tjønneland, A., Eriksen, A. K., Skeie, G., Perez-Cornago, A., Huerta, J. M., Jakszyn, P., Harlid, S., Sundström, B., Barricarte, A., Monninkhof, E. M., Derksen, J. W. G., … Ferrari, P. (2023). Changes in Lifestyle and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition. The American journal of gastroenterology, 118(4), 702–711.

5.) Chen, J., Ruan, X., Fu, T., Lu, S., Gill, D., He, Z., Burgess, S., Giovannucci, E. L., Larsson, S. C., Deng, M., Yuan, S., & Li, X. (2024). Sedentary lifestyle, physical activity, and gastrointestinal diseases: evidence from mendelian randomization analysis. EBioMedicine, 103, 105110. Advance online publication.

6.) Hoxha, I., Sadiku, F., Hoxha, L., Nasim, M., Christine Buteau, M. A., Grezda, K., & Chamberlin, M. D. (2024). Breast Cancer and Lifestyle Factors: Umbrella Review. Hematology/oncology clinics of North America, 38(1), 137–170.

7.) Elisia, I., Lam, V., Cho, B., Hay, M., Li, M. Y., Yeung, M., Bu, L., Jia, W., Norton, N., Lam, S., & Krystal, G. (2020). The effect of smoking on chronic inflammation, immune function and blood cell composition. Scientific reports, 10(1), 19480.

8.) Saint-André, V., Charbit, B., Biton, A. et al. Smoking changes adaptive immunity with persistent effects. Nature 626, 827–835 (2024).

9.) Leiter, A., Veluswamy, R.R. & Wisnivesky, J.P. The global burden of lung cancer: current status and future trends. Nat Rev Clin Oncol 20, 624–639 (2023).

10.) Abrams D. I. (2022). Cannabis, Cannabinoids and Cannabis-Based Medicines in Cancer Care. Integrative cancer therapies, 21, 15347354221081772.

11.) Kaplan A. G. (2021). Cannabis and Lung Health: Does the Bad Outweigh the Good?. Pulmonary therapy, 7(2), 395–408.

12.) Kassaw, N. A., Zhou, A., Mulugeta, A., Lee, S. H., Burgess, S., & Hyppönen, E. (2024). Alcohol consumption and the risk of all-cause and cause-specific mortality-a linear and nonlinear Mendelian randomization study. International journal of epidemiology, 53(2), dyae046.

13.) Psych Central (last reviewed January 31, 2022) "Can Drinking Alcohol Help Relieve Stress?"

14.) Psychology Today (November 30, 2020) "Does Alcohol Really Help You Relax?"

16.) Talukdar, J. R., Steen, J. P., Goldenberg, J. Z., Zhang, Q., Vernooij, R. W. M., Ge, L., Zeraatkar, D., Bała, M. M., Ball, G. D. C., Thabane, L., & Johnston, B. C. (2023). Saturated fat, the estimated absolute risk and certainty of risk for mortality and major cancer and cardiometabolic outcomes: an overview of systematic reviews. Systematic reviews, 12(1), 179.

17.) Mei, J., Qian, M., Hou, Y. et al. Association of saturated fatty acids with cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lipids Health Dis 23, 32 (2024).

18.) The Mesothelioma Center (last updated May 1, 2024) "Mesothelioma Diet & Nutrition."

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