Living a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent cancer. (No cancer is completely preventable, though; genetics and bad luck are factors, too.) But which lifestyle factors really matter? The World Cancer Research Fund has a handy graphic to point them out.
The only things that convincingly decrease your risk of cancer are physical activity (which decreases your risk of colorectal cancer) and walking (which reduces weight gain, and some cancers are linked to weight gain).
The next row of circles on the chart are the things that are strongly linked to cancer risk, including eating vegetables, breastfeeding, and a few no-brainer things relating to healthy eating and exercise. (They explain here how they judged the evidence.)
The size of each circle represents how many cases of cancer it might affect, so the bigger circles are the ones that could make the biggest difference to your risk.
At lower levels on the chart, things get murkier. Vitamin D falls into the "limited-suggestive" category, meaning there's some evidence that it can help prevent colorectal cancer, but not enough to be really sure. The chart then gets into things that may increase your risk of cancer. Among the things that convincingly increase risk: Alcoholic drinks, body fatness as an adult, arsenic in drinking water, and high-dose beta-carotene supplements.
Some factors increase the risk of one cancer but decrease the risk of others. For example, adult body fatness may decrease your risk of premenopausal breast cancer, but increase your risk of other cancers. (You can view a summary chartof the strongest evidence here.)
There's no way to totally outfox cancer, but this tool can help you get a sense of what factors have the most evidence linking them to cancer risk. And if you want an even simpler breakdown of what you should be doing to lower your risk, the World Cancer Research Fund has a list of recommendations here. Here are the major items:
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Eat vegetables.
- Limit fast food.
- Limit red and processed meats.
- Limit sugar-sweetened drinks.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Don't rely on supplements.
- Breastfeed your baby, if you can.
Interactive Cancer Risk Matrix [World Cancer Research Fund]