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Three Strikes: Smoking, Drinking, And Obesity

Smoking, drinking, and obesity: According to the Harvard study, these are the three biggest risk factors affecting people in high-income countries like Canada. Here are some strategies to help you fight the battle against cancer on these three fronts.

Smoking Lighting up may increase your risk of developing a number of cancers, including lung, bladder, kidney, colorectal, pancreatic, breast, and others. Even if you are just an occasional smoker, you may still be significantly increasing your risk of developing cancer. Here are some tips for butting out:

  • Set a quit date and stick to it.
  • Tell others about your plan. If they know you are trying to quit, friends who smoke may be less likely to offer you a cigarette or invite you on a smoke break.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications that can help you quit.
  • Learn your smoking triggers, then eliminate, reduce, or change those smoking-related routines, such as an after-work drink or coffee breaks, to weaken the association.
  • If you are craving a cigarette, set a time limit, say 20 minutes, and see if the craving passes before you give in.

Drinking For many people, drinking in moderation (two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women) isn't considered a problem, but excessive drinking can increase your risk of gastrointestinal, oral, esophageal, liver, breast, and other cancers. Here's how to keep your alcohol consumption under control:

  • Talk to your doctor about whether alcohol is appropriate for you, given your existing risk factors for cancer, medications you may be taking, and other factors.
  • At parties, alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated and limit the total amount of alcohol you consume.
  • Know what makes a serving. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
  • Avoid binge drinking – three or more drinks on a single occasion for women and four or more drinks on a single occasion for men.
  • Recognize the signs of problem drinking. These include drinking in secret, episodes of blacking out, feeling a "need" to drink, and requiring increasing amounts of alcohol to feel the effects of it. If you experience these signs, talk to your doctor.

Overweight and obesity If you are overweight or obese, you are carrying more than just extra pounds – you are also carrying an increased risk of developing a number of different cancers, including breast, cervical, gallbladder and ovarian cancer for women, and colorectal and prostate cancer for men. In addition to increasing your risk, the excess weight may also make it more difficult to test for some cancers, increasing the chance that they may spread before being caught. Here are some tips for keeping your weight under control.

  • Be familiar with what appropriate serving sizes look like. Measure out portions at first and from time to time. If your servings are too large, you may inadvertently be consuming extra calories.
  • Swap full-fat meat and dairy products for lower-fat alternatives. If the taste of low-fat products takes some getting used to, gradually introduce them into your diet.
  • Allow yourself the occasional indulgence. If you deprive yourself all the time, you may be more tempted to binge. But keep treats small.
  • If you don't have time for a long workout, split your exercise into 10 or 15 minute blocks over the course of your day.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.