These healthy habits have been shown to reduce your risk for many different types of the diseases.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S. R.D.
October 22, 2020
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Credit: Getty Images/Gary Yeowell

Approximately 1.8 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and more than 600,000 will die from it. But there are ways to protect yourself. American Cancer Society researchers estimate that at least 42% of new cancer cases may be avoidable, with 18% being related to lifestyle factors like diet and physical activity. Here’s a handful of ways to help lower your risk.

Say Yes to Soy

Studies have shown that the flavonoids in plants like soy can alter certain aspects of cells re- lated to tumor growth. In particular, experimental studies suggest isoflavones—the pre- dominant flavonoid in soy foods—may protect against hormone-related cancers like breast cancer. One recent analysis in the International Journal of Cancer looked at data from Chinese women enrolled in the Shanghai Women’s Health Study and found that those who reported eating high amounts of soy in adulthood had a lower chance of both pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer than those who rarely ate this nutrient-packed legume. Researchers think that isoflavones could help regulate estrogen, too, lowering hormone levels in the body when they’re high and vice versa.

Eat Red– and Purple

The antioxidant that gives many jewel-toned fruits and vegetables their bright reds, blues and purples may also have anti-cancer properties. Called anthocyanins, these compounds are most abundant in produce like berries, red and purple grapes, red cabbage and eggplant. A large body of experimental studies suggest that anthocyanins may help protect against cancers including lung, liver, esophageal, skin, breast and colon cancer, and could even help shrink existing tumors. One trial in Cancer Prevention Research had 25 colorectal cancer patients ingest varying levels of anthocyanins before their surgery dates. The scientists found high levels of anthocyanins in the cancerous tissue, as well as a drop in tumor proliferation compared to the start of the study. Anthocyanins appear to act as powerful antioxidants, keeping normal cells healthy and disrupting the cancer cell

Muscle Up

Though cardiovascular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of many chronic conditions, including cancer, a 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis found that individuals who consistently engaged in two strength-training sessions per week had a 31% lower risk of cancer-related death. The study authors believe this has something to do with strength training reducing circulating sex hormones— noting that lower levels have been shown to reduce the odds of breast and endometrial cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. Additionally, they say there’s evidence that strength training can be “a powerful adjunct therapy in the treatment of cancer,” aiding recovery and combating side effects.

Ramp Up the Fiber

A systematic review and meta-analysis published earlier this year in the journal Cancer found that participants in the U.S. who ate the most fiber had an 8% lower risk of breast cancer than those who consumed the least. The researchers note that fiber-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds—as part of an overall healthy diet—may protect against the disease by leveling post-meal blood glucose spikes and improving insulin sensitivity. Fiber also increases the activity of compounds that lower circulating estrogen levels in the body. One more reason to fiber up: the nutrient has been linked with a reduced risk of colon cancer.

EatingWell, November 2020