Cancer is not typically on the minds of those in their 20s and 30s, but recent research has shed light on a concerning trend – individuals born after 1990 are facing a higher likelihood of developing cancer before reaching the age of 50 than any previous generation. While certain genetic factors play a role in cancer risk, it’s essential to recognize that nearly half of all cancer cases are preventable through lifestyle modifications. Making informed choices early in life can significantly reduce the risk of cancer in the future.
1. Say No to Smoking
Smoking isn’t just a leading cause of lung cancer; it’s associated with 14 other cancer types, including oral and throat cancer. Although the younger generation is less inclined to smoke today, it’s crucial to remember that nine out of ten regular smokers start before the age of 25. To substantially decrease your risk of various cancers, either abstain from smoking or quit if you’re already a smoker.
While vaping is considered less harmful than smoking, its long-term effects remain uncertain. As recommended by Cancer Research UK, e-cigarettes should be used solely as aids to quit smoking. Furthermore, the connection between cannabis use and cancer risk remains inconclusive. Until more research emerges, it’s wise to exercise caution with both substances.
2. Safe Sex Practices Matter
Human papillomavirus (HPV), responsible for genital warts, is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection worldwide. It can lead to various cancers, including cervical, penile, oral, and throat cancers. HPV-associated cancers are particularly common among young individuals, with cervical cancer being most frequently diagnosed in women aged 30-34 in the UK. Increasing HPV rates may also explain the recent surge in oral cancers among young men.
Vaccination against HPV and practicing safe sex are crucial for protecting against HPV infection. For women, regular cervical screening (commonly known as a “smear test”) is essential as it can detect the presence of an HPV infection before it progresses to cancer. Women aged 25 to 64 should aim to undergo screening every five years.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese has been linked to a heightened risk of 13 different cancers, including bowel, breast, uterine, and pancreatic cancers. Excess body fat triggers inflammation in the body, promoting tumor growth and cancer cell division. Fat cells also produce estrogen, which can stimulate tumor growth in the breast and uterus, making the increased cancer risk more pronounced in women. The incidence of obesity-related cancers is rising, especially among younger adults.
Diet plays a significant role as well; excessive consumption of red and processed meats is linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer. Conversely, a well-balanced diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables can reduce the risk of various cancer types.
Maintaining a healthy weight and adopting a balanced diet can substantially lower your risk of developing cancer later in life.
4. Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol consumption is a well-known contributor to several cancers, including liver, breast, and esophageal cancers. Even moderate drinking contributes to around 100,000 cancer cases worldwide annually. A study suggests that moderate drinkers who frequently engage in binge drinking may be up to 50% more likely to develop breast cancer. Combining smoking with alcohol consumption can amplify the cancer-causing effects of smoking.
To decrease your cancer risk, consider cutting down on your alcohol intake or eliminating it entirely. The NHS recommends consuming no more than 14 units of alcohol per week (equivalent to approximately 6 pints or 10 small glasses of wine) and having alcohol-free days each week.
5. Shield Your Skin with Sunscreen
Skin cancer is increasingly diagnosed among individuals under 40, and it has become more prevalent over the past few decades. The primary cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. Since the effects of UV radiation accumulate over time, areas of the skin regularly exposed to the sun, such as the face, are most susceptible to skin cancer. Severe sunburn during youth can specifically heighten the risk of the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
Protect yourself from skin cancer by using sun protection whenever you’re in intense sunlight. This includes wearing hats, covering up with long clothing, and applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, bearing in mind that no sunscreen offers 100% protection. This is especially important for individuals at higher risk, such as those with fair skin and a tendency to freckle.
Incorporating these lifestyle changes not only reduces the risk of cancer but also promotes overall health and well-being. Other measures to enhance overall health include regular physical activity and minimizing exposure to air pollution. By making these choices now, younger generations can take proactive steps towards a healthier, cancer-free future.