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Doctor shares factors that can help reduce cancer risk

As lung cancer rates see a significant decline, colorectal cancer rates are rising as doctors urge the public to get screened.
Doctor shares factors that can help reduce cancer risk
Posted at 9:26 AM, Jan 18, 2024

The good news is that fewer people in the U.S. are dying from cancer overall. However, the bad news is that cancer patients are now often younger. So how can people reduce their chances of getting cancer?

According to a new study published by the American Cancer Society, progress in preventing six of the top 10 cancers is lagging. Cancer diagnosis rates increased by 12% among people under age 50 between 2000 and 2019. 

One major factor is increasing incidents of colorectal cancer. 

"If we went back to the 1990s, it was the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in both men and women," said Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer with the American Cancer Society. "But currently, based on our new data, it's the No. 1 leading cause of cancer death in men under the age of 50 and No. 2 in women. So it's past lung cancer in both men and women and only behind breast cancer in women. So it's really a fairly dramatic change."

Although early detection can help prevent mortality, Dahut said there are other factors that can help prevent cancer development in the first place. The most obvious is to avoid tobacco. He said 42% of cancers are preventable by avoiding tobacco. 

He also says that moderate exercise, limiting alcohol, and consuming a healthy diet also reduce the chances of getting cancer. 

"Thinking about all those things together, there are ways you can actually change your lifestyle, do the things your mother told you to do, and actually decrease your cancer risk," he said. 

In the United States, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most skin cancers come from too much sun exposure. The CDC says you can lower your risk of getting skin cancer by shielding your skin from both the sun's UV rays and artificial sources like tanning beds and sunlamps, and don't skimp on sunscreen.

SEE MORE: More Americans are being diagnosed with cancer at a younger age

The trend in colorectal cancer has been one measured by the American Cancer Society in previous reports. 

The CDC recommends colon cancer screenings begin at age 45. Dahut notes that some people are more susceptible to colorectal cancer.

"Sadly, we do see cancer in young folks and at least in colorectal cancer, about a third of the diagnoses under the age of 50 are related to either a strong family history or related to an inherited genetic mutation," he said. 

He said because some people are more susceptible, doctors may advise screening at an earlier age. 

"If you have a strong family history, you should definitely start sooner, maybe 10 years earlier than the first cancer of that type in your family," Dahut said. "Early detection really is key."

Dahut highlights that another crucial factor to consider is that doctors sometimes miss timely diagnoses, resulting in delayed treatment, rapid disease progression, and potential fatalities.

"I think sadly, you hear many times, you know, women and men see their physicians, sometimes with abdominal pain or maybe some rectal bleeding, and they're told it's nothing, and I think the importance of communication such as today is to let people know sadly, we do see cancer in young folks," Dahut said.

The Mayo Clinic states that as a whole, we should do regular self-exams and screenings for cancers like skin, colon, cervix and breast cancer, as this can increase the likelihood of detecting cancer early, when treatment is most effective.

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