St. Vincent's Dr. Scott Sears Discusses Less Commonly Known Risk Factors for Cancer

By: Scott Sears, MD -- Medical Director of Primary Care, SCL Health Medical Group Montana

Do you know the top risk factors for cancer? Some are modifiable and some are not. For example, aging is the top risk for cancer but isn't something you can do much about! Tobacco use is a commonly known risk factor that most of us know about and try to avoid. But there are some less commonly known risk factors that you can do something about:

Sun exposure: wear a brimmed hat and long sleeves in the sun, which rays are strongest between 10AM and 4PM. Remember the rule of 30's: SPF 30 on 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Use sunglasses to protect your eyes since you can't put sunscreen on them!

Viruses: get immunized! Hepatitis B and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are both strongly associated with cancer and can be prevented by getting the appropriate vaccines. 

Physical Activity: regular physical activity of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week (even walking) has been shown to reduce the risk of many different kinds of cancer

Weight: fat cells are inflammatory and can increase the risk for many types of cancer. Maintain a healthy weight to reduce your risk of some cancers.

Alcohol: a recent survey of women getting mammograms revealed that only 20% of women know that alcohol is a significant risk factor for breast cancer. Minimize alcohol intake to reduce breast cancer risk, as well as other types of cancer (such as head and neck cancers)

Screening: while not all screening tests prevent cancer, they can find cancer at earlier stages that are more treatable. Visit with your primary care provider about things like mammograms, blood tests, pap smears, and colonoscopies. One thing you can do yourself is regular skin exams. Look at each mole for Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color variation, or Diameter bigger than a pencil eraser. If your moles have any of the ABCD features, have them examined by your health care provider.

Tune in to NewsTalk 95.5 every other Tuesday at 8:05 a.m. to hear Dr. Sears discuss various health topics on Montana Talks with Aaron Flint.

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