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Already quit your New Year’s resolutions? Consider your cancer risk

New year's resolutions
Many of the most common New Year’s resolutions may help reduce your risk of cancer. Learn more

If you are like most people, chances are you made resolutions or set goals to achieve in the new year. Surveys show that more than half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. And, if you are like most people, chances are you have already strayed from your new lifestyle changes or scrapped your resolutions all together. A University of Scranton study from 2013 concluded that only about 8 percent of Americans who make resolutions stick to them.

If you are less than resolute about keeping your resolutions and are looking for extra motivation to stick to them or jumpstart your commitment, consider this: Many of the most common New Year’s resolutions may help reduce your risk of cancer.

Top 10 Resolutions Percent
Get more exercise 50
Save money 49
Eat healthy 43
Lose weight 37
Reduce stress 34
Get more sleep 30
Stick to a budget 30
Grow spiritually 28
Travel more 25

The chart lists the 10 most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2020 and the percentage of those surveyed who made them, according to the research organization YouGov.

Here are five common New Year’s resolutions and how sticking to them may help cut your cancer risk.

Quit smoking

Oddly, quitting smoking was not among the top 10 resolutions a recent YouGov poll listed as the most common. But it is on other lists of most common New Year’s lifestyle changes. In fact, quitting smoking may be single-most important lifestyle change you can make to reduce your risk of cancer. Tobacco smoking is linked to 85 percent of all lung cancers and one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of them toxic, that may cause DNA damage, which in turn may lead to abnormal cell growth and, eventually, a tumor. The damage from tobacco smoke is not confined to the mouth, throat or lungs. Toxins from tobacco smoke travel through the bloodstream, increasing the risk of cancer to the bladder, pancreas, breasts and other organs.

If you think it’s too late to quit, consider these facts from the CDC:

  • Your chance of developing cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder is cut in half within five years of quitting.
  • Your risk of dying from lung cancer is cut in half within 10 years of quitting.

Learn more about how smoking causes cancer.

Get more exercise

Multiple studies have shown a clear link between exercise and decreased cancer risk. Once study published in December 2019 collected data from more than 750,000 people over 10 years. It found that participants who are physically active for at least 7.5 hours a week reduced their risk of developing several cancers, including those of the colon, breast, uterus, kidney and liver, as well as blood cancers like multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “Health care providers, fitness professionals, and public health practitioners should encourage adults to adopt and maintain physical activity at recommended levels to lower risks of multiple cancers,” the study’s authors suggested.

Regular exercise impacts several bodily functions that may improve your overall health. Exercise lowers the levels of certain hormones, such as estrogen, that may increase cancer risk. It helps reduce weight and prevent obesity, which is linked to many cancers. Physical activity may also help support the immune system, reduce inflammation and slow tumor growth.

“There are studies indicating a reduction in the rate of tumor growth with regular exercise,” says Anthony Perre, MD, Vice Chief of Staff at our hospital in Philadelphia. “Theoretically, exercise may increase levels of the hormone catecholamine, which may reduce the ability of the cancer cells to form tumors in distant sites. Endurance exercise may also impact signaling pathways that increase tumor growth. Exercise may also affect immune function, namely the ability for natural killer cells and the immune system to be able to identify and kill cancer cells.”

Do activity monitors make us healthier? Learn more.

Eat healthy

The link between diet and cancer risk may be difficult to document because of a variety of factors that make direct connections hard to determine, including the infinite combinations of food and beverages and the multiple compounds and substances found in food. However, research has shown that a healthy diet is essential for overall health and may reduce your risk of certain cancers. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) cites several studies that suggest a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables (cabbages, leafy greens, broccoli) may help reduce the risk of several cancers. Diets high in fiber and low in processed and charred meats are also associated with lower cancer risk.

Reducing alcohol consumption—another common New Year’s resolution—may also help reduce cancer risk. Excessive drinking increases the risks of several cancers, including head and neck, esophageal, colorectal, liver and female breast cancer.

Learn more about the connection between alcohol and cancer.

Lose weight

According to the CDC, obesity is linked to at least 13 types of cancer, including breast, liver, kidney, esophageal and colorectal. But how does being overweight increase your cancer risk? Obesity is linked to the production of certain hormones, such as insulin and estrogen, which may increase risk. Also, those who are obese may also have chronic inflammation, another known risk factor for cancer.

Obesity also has been linked to poor outcomes for patients with cancer. A 2017 study in California concluded that chemotherapy may be less effective in some obese patients. Research indicated that fat cells may absorb chemotherapy drugs and break them down. Another study of children with leukemia concluded that obese children were more likely to have a recurrence of their cancer than those who are not obese.

Learn more about obesity and cancer.

Reduce stress

Stress may often trigger a number of visible physical responses, such as a furrowed brow, hunched shoulders, sweat or fidgeting or pacing. Internally, stress sets off a series of metabolic or cellular reactions that, left unaddressed, may have an effect on our ability to fight off disease. Under stress, the body produces hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol intended to help us deal with whatever crisis we may be facing. While there is no direct evidence that chronic stress causes cancer, it may inhibit the immune system and/or promote chronic inflammation, which may increase cancer risk. Research also shows that chronic stress may promote tumor growth or metastasis. Stress may also trigger unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, excessive drinking or overeating, resulting in obesity, all of which are linked to cancer.

Learn more about the connection between stress and cancer.

Tips to help keep your resolutions

The American Psychological Association offers these tips to help you stick to your resolutions:

Try one at a time. Lifestyle behaviors occur over time. Don’t try to change all your bad habits at once.

Be realistic. Keep your goals within reason.

Seek support. It’s OK to ask for help to meet certain goals. And you may be more likely to stick to them if you talk about your struggles and seek advice from others.

Don’t get down. The road to a goal often has ups and downs. It’s also common to stray from a resolution. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get back on track or start over again.

Learn how lifestyle changes may reduce your cancer risk.