How to avoid cancer
Your New Year's resolution could also help fend off cancer.

Quitting smoking is a no-brainer when it comes to reducing the chances of lung cancer. But did you know that putting down that cigarette for good can also lessen your chances of getting breast, prostate and bladder cancer? There's even evidence that smoking can increase your risk for leukemia.

A healthy diet and exercise not only reduce the risk for heart disease, they can also help prevent many types of cancers.

Oncologists at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando looked at five cancers – lung, breast, prostate, skin, colon and rectal – and how changes in behavior can help prevent them. Their observations were recently published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Dr. Clarence Brown, president and CEO of M.D. Anderson, part of the life-sciences cluster at the emerging "medical city" at Lake Nona, was among the co-authors who shared article highlights with the Orlando Sentinel.

Resolution: Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to reduce your chances of getting many types of cancer.

"The most important lifestyle factor when it comes to cancer is the use of tobacco," said Brown. "We would eliminate 60 percent of cancers, not just lung cancer, if people stopped smoking."

When it comes to tobacco use, Brown said it was an all or nothing proposition.

"No level of usage is safe. Just one cigarette is harmful," Brown said. "Also, smokeless tobacco is just as harmful."

Brown stressed that it's never too late to give up tobacco, even those who already have cancer.

"People who have cancer think, 'Well, the horse is out of the barn -- why stop now?' We know that cancer-survival rates improve when one stops smoking. Also, when you stop smoking, the risk of cancer goes down immediately and continues to decrease."

It's not just good for you to quit smoking, but also for those around you, Brown said.

"It's just as important to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke," he said.

There are 3,000 to 10,000 cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year in the U.S. as a result of second-hand smoke, said Brown.

Resolution: Drop Those Excess Pounds

Obesity is expected to surpass tobacco as the most significant cause of many cancers.

"Most people probably don't think about obesity as a cause of cancer, but weight control is very important to prevent various types of cancer," said Brown.

But don't look for the latest fad diet, health experts say. Research has shown that losing weight by dieting alone is not effective without adding some sort of exercise activity.

"Diet plus exercise will help sustain weight loss over the long run," said Brown.

Speaking of diet, experts recommend following nutritional guidelines to ensure you're getting the right amount of vitamins, protein, fiber and other nutrients. Diets high in red meat can contribute to higher risk of colon cancer. Conversely, high fiber can be beneficial to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Resolution: Get More Sleep

Studies show that women who slept less than seven hours a day have a higher incidence of breast and colon cancer. Sleep is also important for boosting immunity and improving concentration.

"The message here is get your sleep," said Brown.

Resolution: Limit Sun Exposure

More than five sunburns can double one's risk of developing skin cancer.

"This is especially important for children. When you've had early exposure to the sun, the damage is done," said Brown.

Some sun exposure – with a sunscreen of at least 15 SPF, 45 or higher if you're fair-skinned – is important because sunlight provides vitamin D, which is an important nutrient that can also help prevent cancer.

"Too much sun causes skin cancer. Too little increases the risk of breast cancer," said Brown. "It's a balance."