The habits you keep today can influence your health tomorrow. With that in mind, here are five easy ways men can take cancer prevention into their own hands.
Exercise is one of the best ways to lessen your cancer risk — and you don’t have to slog on a treadmill. “Take advantage of the sunshine and walk when you can,” says Memorial Sloan Kettering epidemiologist Margaret Du. Every little bit counts, she adds: “You don’t have to run marathons. Any activity — including walking at a brisk pace — can help prevent cancer, even if you don’t lose weight.”
Protect Yourself from the Sun
Men are twice as likely as women to die from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. While the disease may not show up until later in life, sunburns in your younger years may be important to its development. Older men are also at greatest risk for this serious cancer because they may not know how to recognize a cancerous mole.
Start protecting yourself now by staying safe in the sun and avoiding it in the middle of the day, when rays are the harshest.
“When you’re outside, wear tightly woven, protective clothing, a hat, and sunscreen,” says MSK epidemiologist Elizabeth Kantor. That’s important whether you’re at the pool, on the golf course, or just out for a stroll. Use a shot glass–size amount of sunscreen, and target forgotten spots like the backs of your legs and neck, behind your ears, and the top of your head.
Prevention also means keeping an eye out for changes in your skin, like moles and dark patches that appear or change form. They can be signs of melanoma and can often appear on your back, where you might not see them. One Swedish study found that men who lived alone were more likely to die of melanoma than those who cohabited — possibly because their partner was able to notice unusual skin changes before they did. Your best bet is to get a yearly skin exam from a dermatologist. It’s painless and takes just a few minutes.
Load Up on Produce
In-season fruits and vegetables can give your next meal a cancer-fighting kick. Tomatoes and watermelon, for example, are great sources of lycopene, and “studies suggest that eating more fruits and vegetables high in lycopene may reduce your prostate cancer risk,” says MSK epidemiologist Helena Furberg-Barnes.
Go Easy at the Grill
There’s no easier way to cook than grilling a piece of meat, but too much barbecuing may not be good for your gut. “Evidence suggests that the compounds formed when meat is cooked at a high temperature may be associated with an increased risk of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer,” Dr. Kantor says. It’s also wise to limit your intake of processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, and sausages, which have also been linked to colorectal cancer.
Don’t Go Up in Smoke
According to the World Health Organization, far more men than women smoke. And it’s not only cigarettes that are worrisome: cigars, hookah, marijuana, electronic cigarettes — all of them contain harmful carcinogens that have been linked to cancer. “It is never too late to quit smoking,” says Dr. Furberg-Barnes. “The risk of getting lung cancer and many other smoking-related diseases, such as head and neck cancers, decreases after you stop smoking, and continues to go down as more tobacco-free time passes.” MSK offers a Tobacco Treatment Program to support anyone trying to quit.