At Baptist Health, we’re dedicated to providing you with the information, resources and screenings you need to help manage and lower your risk of developing cancer.
While some cancer risk factors, such as age and family history, are beyond your control, there are some you can control. Lowering your risk of developing certain cancers may be as easy as making small lifestyle changes.
Consuming alcohol is a known cause of certain types of cancer:
- Breast: Alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women, perhaps because it can have an effect on the body’s levels of estrogen.
- Colon and rectum: This link between colorectal cancer and alcohol has been found for both men and women, with the risk for men being stronger.
- Esophagus, mouth, throat and voice box: This link is present for both men and women, and increases when a person also uses tobacco products.
- Liver: Frequent, heavy alcohol consumption can harm the liver, which may lead to increased risk of liver cancer.
Why does consuming alcohol increase the risk of cancer?
There are many reasons alcohol consumption might raise your risk of developing certain cancers.
One reason may be that alcohol can damage the body’s tissues, causing the cells to try to repair the damage. When they do, the repair process could cause DNA changes that may lead toward cancer.
Consuming alcohol can also contribute to weight gain, affect levels of hormones in the body and inhibit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, such as folate, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Lowering Your Risk
We recommend that men have no more than two servings of alcohol per day. Women, whose bodies are typically smaller and take longer to break down alcohol, should have no more than one.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a serving of alcohol might be:
- A five-ounce glass of wine
- A 12-ounce bottle of beer
- A 1.5-ounce shot of spirits (bourbon, gin, rum, vodka, etc.)
However, there are some groups who should not drink, such as women who are or who plan to become pregnant.
If you have an alcohol dependence or addiction, please contact our behavioral health department for more information on our chemical dependency programs. We may be able to help you get sober and begin making more healthful lifestyle choices.
Diet and Exercise
According to the American Cancer Society, one third of all yearly U.S. cancer deaths are related to diet and exercise.
A lot of that has to do with the excess body weight that can result from an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle. Extra pounds may be linked to as much as a fifth of all cancer-related deaths in the U.S. and may increase your risk of developing the following types of cancer:
- Breast cancer (post-menopause)
- Colorectal cancer
- Gynecologic cancers, such as that of the cervix, endometrium (uterus lining) or ovary
- Prostate cancer
- Other cancers, such as that of the esophagus, kidney, gallbladder or pancreas
That’s a big problem, since nearly 34 percent of American adults are obese. Kentucky, with a 2013 obesity rate around 33.2 percent, ranks among the top 5 most obese states.
Lowering Your Risk
To lessen your diet and physical activity-related risk of developing cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends making the following lifestyle changes:
- Keep a healthy weight throughout your life
- Get active. Adults should get 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (preferably spread out) per week, or a combination of intensities. Kids and teens should get at least one hour of exercise per day, with vigorous exercise at least three days a week. When possible, people should avoid sedentary activities, like watching TV.
- Eat a healthy, plant-focused diet. This includes limiting your intake of red and processed meat, and eating whole grains, fruits and veggies.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink.
Shedding those extra pounds can be difficult when you’re going at it alone. We may be able to help.
At our fitness centers, you can use exercise equipment, break a sweat in our group and specialty fitness classes, and learn more about nutrition. Contact your local Baptist Health hospital to see if we have a fitness center in your area.
We also offer weight loss and bariatric surgery programs, including advanced, minimally invasive laparoscopic and bariatric options, in addition to classes, exercise coaching, nutritional counseling and other services in a program we’ll tailor just for you.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly one fifth of all cancers are related to the environment or workplace carcinogens – a substance or exposure that causes cancer. They result in 1.3 million deaths per year, worldwide.
Some of the most common workplace exposure-related cancers are bladder cancer and lung cancer. One tenth of all lung cancer deaths may be caused by exposure to cancer causing materials, including asbestos, in the work environment.
It’s possible to lower the risk of workplace exposure-related cancers by removing carcinogenic materials from the work environment. These include asbestos, silica, radon, arsenic in water and other materials, according to the WHO.
In addition to those found in the workplace, there are other day-to-day environmental cancer causes you may encounter. Other cancer-causing exposures include the UV radiation in sunlight and water, soil and air pollution.
One type of air pollution is radon, a radioactive gas that occurs naturally from the break down of uranium in soil, rock, and water. Radon exposure is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer, overall. For those exposed to both radon and tobacco smoke, the risk of cancer increases nearly ten-fold.
Kentucky is rated by the EPA as a Zone 1 state, meaning it has the highest potential for radon exposure.
Lowering Your Risk
To reduce your risk of developing cancer from environmental causes, a good place to start is avoiding or limiting exposure.
For example, to lessen your cancer risk due to exposure to UV radiation, you can avoid sun lamps, tanning beds and take steps to protect your skin against the sun. To avoid cancers due to air pollution, watch for air quality alerts, keep your home well-ventilated and only smoke outside, away from doors and windows. In addition, test your home, office, and schools for radon to determine your exposure risk. If your radon level is above 4 pCi/L, contact a certified radon mitigation professional.
If you’re a business owner or manager and would like more information on making work safer for your employees, please contact Baptist Health Occupational Medicine. We provide a variety of health services, immunizations and education programs to help your employees stay healthy.
Baptist Health has access to genetic counselors throughout Kentucky who offer genetic testing and, together with your family history and cancer risk assessment, they will chart your course for screening and management options.
Armed with that knowledge, you and your healthcare providers can discuss the best options.
Genetic counseling may be right for you, if you have:
- A personal or family history of cancer, including breast, colon or certain gynecologic cancers
- Multiple relatives on the same side with the same or related cancers, or a personal history of related cancers
- A personal or family history of multiple primary cancers in one individual
- Jewish ancestry and a personal or family history of any of the cancers already mentioned
- A personal or family history of male breast cancer
- An increased risk for hereditary cancer syndrome, as indicated by an IHC screening for colon or uterine tumors
- A known genetic condition in the family (Lynch syndrome, BRCA, etc.)
What happens during a genetic counseling appointment?
During your appointment, a genetic counselor will review your family and personal medical history. The counselor will then discuss screening and management recommendations for your cancer risk.
You’ll also discuss genetic testing options, including benefits, limitations and costs. Your counselor will then give you recommendations based on your risk-assessment.
Our Genetic Counselors
Baptist Health’s genetic counselors have specialized training in genetics and genetic conditions and have two years of graduate study in medical genetics. They’re also board-certified, or in the process of getting board-certified.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer type, and most cases, including basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma, are directly caused by the ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight, according to the American Cancer Society.
Certain behaviors may increase your risk, including having had previous sunburns, spending a lot of time in the sun for recreation or living in a high-sun area.
UV radiation, a form of electromagnetic radiation, has more energy than visible light and can damage the DNA in your cells, potentially leading to cancer in the skin.
The sun is the biggest source of UV radiation, and you may be exposed to different amounts depending on season, time of day, altitude, cloud coverage and other factors.
Aside from the sun, there are also several manmade sources of UV rays, including welding torches, black-lights, sunlamps and tanning beds. Your risk of melanoma is 75 percent higher if you started using tanning beds before age 35, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Lowering Your Risk
The easiest way to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer due to UV radiation is to avoid excess exposure. You can do this by:
- Staying in the shade, when possible, on sunny days, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Covering exposed skin from the sun and wearing a hat and sunglasses
- Using sunscreen to protect from the sun. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a broad spectrum (UVA/IVB) sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with and SPF of 30 or higher.
- Do not burn
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of 6 months
- Avoiding sunlamps or tanning beds
- Examine your skin monthly
- Have a professional skin exam done yearly by your physician
Skin cancer’s appearance can be different depending on factors such as the stage, type and location. But you should look for scaly or rough patches of skin, oozing, bleeding, sores that don’t heal and other changes, such as new spots or growths, or moles that change size or color.
If you spot any of these signs during a skin cancer self-check, report them to your doctor, who may want to perform additional screening and diagnostic procedures.
Tobacco use was the cause of 30 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths in 2014.
That year, tobacco products caused 87 percent of lung cancer deaths in men and 70 percent in women. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both genders.
While tobacco use is frequently associated with lung cancer, it can also increase the risk of other cancer types. Those cancer types are:
- Bladder, kidney, pancreas and stomach
- Cervix, ovaries and uterus
- Colon and rectum
- Esophagus, lips, mouth, nose, sinuses, throat and voice box
Lowering Your Risk
The easiest and best way to lower your tobacco-related cancer risk is to never start using tobacco products. But if you already have, your lung tissue can repair itself, if you stop using tobacco products before cancer develops, according to the National Cancer Institute.
But kicking a tobacco habit can be hard, since many tobacco products contain addictive nicotine. If you’re trying to quit, Baptist Health’s tobacco cessation classes may be helpful.
Our Beat the Pack program provides resources that can help make quitting easier. And it’s flexible, so those trying to quit can choose the option that best suits their style and needs.
A combination of counseling and medication often yields the best results. After consulting with your doctor about the best program for you, you can register online.
Selection of a strategy and/or medication is a decision of the participant and their provider.
Baptist Health Beat the Pack
- 5-week smoking cessation program
- 30-minute sessions
- Encourages peer support
- Provides information for self-help support
- Medication therapy education provided by a pharmacist
- Provided for free at Baptist Health facilities