Too many calories, too little activity, too much alcohol, missing our cancer screens and of course, smoking, all increase our risks for cancer.
But despite what you might have read across the internet, not all reports of cancer causes are supported by evidence. For example, phones, plastics, powerlines and emotional pressures have been touted as cancer causing by some. But these proclamations are not supported by evidence. So because of this lack of evidentiary support, official cancer prevention guidelines do not recognize them as risks.
It does, however, stand to reason that too much stress can put us into a tailspin and lead to problematic lifestyle choices. For example, when I’m in a good place, I get my flu shot, do the colonoscopy, go to the dentist and vote (even in the midterms). When I’m stressed, I don’t have the time to floss or to vote. Even worse, my emotional eating kicks in and the inhalation-of-potato-chips-over-the-sink activity interferes with maintenance of my healthy weight.
So what to eat or not to eat? That is the question. Very few specific foods have been convincingly shown to increase or reduce the risk of cancer—with the exception of smoked meat leading to a modest increased colon cancer risk.
For one, it’s difficult to design studies that can accurately look at the effect of a single food item. This is because our diets include various foods, and those foods consist of many different compounds that could affect the risk of cancer.
The way food intake is measured is another difficulty that can push poor epidemiologists over the edge. Many studies use "food-frequency questionnaires" which ask subjects how often and how much they’ve eaten specific foods. But this doesn’t take into account other lifestyle factors that are important in cancer risk, such as being sedentary, smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol. People who enjoy the couch, the sauce and the tobacco too much have lower intakes of fruit and vegetables. If higher cancer risks in those people are observed, it’s hard to detangle the effects of one from the others.
Still, there are a few general lifestyle habits that research shows can lower your risk: