5 lifestyle changes to help prevent cancer

February is National Cancer Prevention Month, an annual movement dedicated to educating the public on the fact that up to 50 percent of cancers develop from preventable causes. I interviewed Rosie Rosati of the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center to highlight common risk factors that can lead to cancer.

Marcela: What are daily habits that can lead to cancerous health hazards?

Rosie: If you or a loved one is hooked on tobacco products, this is the perfect time to think about making a positive change, not only for yourself, but also for the public's health. Tobacco smoke is one of the biggest health threats worldwide and kills more than 7 million people annually. This smoke contains up to 50 human carcinogens and can lead to numerous types of cancers that can be found in the lung, mouth, throat and esophagus. Secondhand exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, which means we are all vulnerable to the effects of those who choose to use these products. Now that tobacco smoke is referred to as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), there is no mistake this cancer-causing agent is taking a toll on our health and our planet.

While having an occasional drink is not a health threat, drinking every day is linked to increasing your risk of developing cancer. Excess consumption over long periods of time increases the risk of several types of cancer, including breast, liver and throat. The carcinogenic component in these drinks is thought to be ethanol, which comprises about half an ounce of a standard drink. One drink is considered to be 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. It has been suggested that women limit their intake of alcohol to one drink per day and men no more than two drinks per day.

Marcela: What are cancerous health hazards in our environment?

Rosie: Radon is a natural radioactive gas that can accumulate to dangerous levels inside homes and buildings. This airborne toxin is invisible and released from the Earth through the decay of uranium in soil and rocks. Common places that run the risk of exposure include basements, underground mines and lower level rooms. The No. 1 source of exposure indoors is soil gas infiltration, followed by faulty building materials and groundwater. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and those who endure a combination of both radon and tobacco smoke are considered to be most at risk.

A carcinogenic material once manufactured worldwide is asbestos. This group of minerals was highly desired for commercial purposes because of its rare ability to resist high temperatures and immense strength. In more recent decades, asbestos was discovered as the only proven cause of Mesothelioma, a rare cancer that can take several decades to develop and often leads to patients being diagnosed in the final stage. In addition, this substance is suggested to be responsible for up to half of occupational cancer diagnoses and can cause an array of asbestos-related diseases. Those at high-risk of exposure include anyone living in an old or historic home, veterans, firefighters and construction workers.

Marcela: What are cancerous health hazards in our lifestyle?

Rosie: Lack of exercise and poor nutrition are both important risk factors we can improve in order to reduce our risk of cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying active and choosing healthy foods can make all the difference for your future health. It has been estimated that around 20 percent of cancers in the United States are linked to personal lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise. Excess body weight in particular requires the body to produce extra hormones that increase the risk of numerous cancers such as breast, colon and pancreatic. In addition, it's beneficial to limit the amount of processed and red meats you eat, include fruits and vegetables in your daily diet and choose whole grain products. Not only does this positive change reduce your risk for cancer, but it also can also help prevent chronic illnesses such as heart disease, as well as improve your hormone levels and your overall immune system.

In conclusion:

During President Barack Obama's final State of the Union, he introduced our nation to the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. The ultimate goal is to improve detection and treatment for patients and, most importantly, to end cancer by 2020. Let's take an active role in reducing the amount of people exposed to cancer-causing agents and promote a lifestyle our future selves will thank us for.

The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center provides information and resources for mesothelioma patients and their families. Learn more about their services.