Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Skip to main content

Reduce Your Risk

What you eat and drink, how active you are and other lifestyle behaviors all can affect your risk for cancer. 

Avoid Tobacco 

Smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body, is linked to at least 15 different cancers and accounts for about 30 percent of all cancer deaths. Because cigarette smoking and tobacco use are acquired behaviors—activities that people choose to do—smoking is the most preventable cause of death in our society. Yet one in five Americans still light up. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your loved ones. 

For support, consider joining Northwestern Medicine’s eight-session group program on Tobacco Cessation

Eat Healthy

"Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective," a global report on diet and cancer risk reduction, concludes that 30 to 40 percent of cancers are directly linked to dietary choices. Although no diet can guarantee protection against disease, incorporating the following suggestions can improve your health and reduce your cancer risk:

  • Choose foods and beverages in amounts that will help you maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat at least five servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grains and sugars
  • Eat 1 medium-sized piece of fruit daily
  • Limit consumption of processed and red meats

Nutritional counseling from dietitians is available to Lurie Cancer Center patients.

Exercise 

Even small amounts of moderate activity throughout the day can make a difference. Regular physical activity is easier to fit in than you may realize and can significantly lower your lifetime risk for cancer. The American Cancer society recommends that you engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity beyond your usual activities on at least five days of the week. Trying for 45 to 60 minutes of intentional physical activity is even better. 

Moderate activity is anything that makes you breathe as hard as you do during a brisk walk. During moderate activities, you'll notice a slight increase in heart rate and breathing, but you may not break a sweat. Vigorous activities generally engage large muscle groups and cause a noticeable increase in heart rate, breathing depth and frequency and sweating. 

Other beneficial activities include those that improve strength and flexibility such as weight lifting, stretching or yoga. View our Wellness Activities section of the calendar for more information.

Avoid the Sun

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation comes from the sun, sunlamps and tanning booths. It causes early aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer.

Doctors encourage people of all ages to limit their time in the sun and to avoid other sources of UV radiation by following these rules:

  • Avoid the midday sun (from mid-morning to late afternoon) whenever possible. You also should protect yourself from UV radiation reflected by sand, water, snow and ice. UV radiation can penetrate light clothing, windshields and windows.
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses with lenses that absorb UV.
  • Use sunscreen. Sunscreen may help prevent skin cancer, especially sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. But sunscreens cannot replace avoiding the sun and wearing clothing to protect the skin.
  • Stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths. They are no safer than sunlight.
Back to top