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updated 10/18/2010 2:28:11 PM ET 2010-10-18T18:28:11

First, the good news: You probably won't get cancer. That is, if you have a healthy lifestyle. "As many as 70% of known causes of cancers are avoidable and related to lifestyle," says Thomas A. Sellers, PhD, associate director for cancer prevention and control at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Diet, exercise, and avoidance of tobacco products are, of course, your first line of defense, but recent research has uncovered many small, surprising ways you can weave even more disease prevention into your everyday life. Try these novel strategies and your risk could dwindle even more.

1. Filter your tap water
You'll reduce your exposure to known or suspected carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals. A new report from the President's Cancer Panel on how to reduce exposure to carcinogens suggests that home-filtered tap water is a safer bet than bottled water, whose quality often is not higher—and in some cases is worse—than that of municipal sources, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group. (Consumer Reports' top picks for faucet-mounted filters: Culligan, Pur Vertical, and the Brita OPFF-100.) Store water in stainless steel or glass to avoid chemical contaminants such as BPA that can leach from plastic bottles.

2. Stop topping your tank
So say the EPA and the President's Cancer Panel: Pumping one last squirt of gas into your car after the nozzle clicks off can spill fuel and foil the pump's vapor recovery system, designed to keep toxic chemicals such as cancer-causing benzene out of the air, where they can come in contact with your skin or get into your lungs.

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3. Marinate meat before grilling
Processed, charred, and well-done meats can contain cancer-causing heterocyclic amines, which form when meat is seared at high temperatures, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which get into food when it's charcoal broiled. "The recommendation to cut down on grilled meat has really solid scientific evidence behind it," says Cheryl Lyn Walker, PhD, a professor of carcinogenesis at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

If you do grill, add rosemary and thyme to your favorite marinade and soak meat for at least an hour before cooking. The antioxidant-rich spices can cut HCAs by as much as 87%, according to research at Kansas State University.

30 Ways to cancer-proof your life.

4. Caffeinate every day
Java lovers who drank 5 or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day had a 40% decreased risk of brain cancer, compared with people who drank the least in a 2010 British study. A 5-cup-a-day coffee habit reduces risks of cancers of the pharynx and mouth almost as much. Researchers credit the caffeine: Decaf had no comparable effect. But coffee was a more potent protector against these cancers than tea, which the British researchers said also offered protection against brain cancer.

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5. Water Down Your Risks
Drinking plenty of water and other liquids may reduce the risk of bladder cancer by diluting the concentration of cancer-causing agents in urine and helping to flush them through the bladder faster. Drink at least 8 cups of liquid a day, suggests the American Cancer Society.

6. Load up on really green greens
Next time you're choosing salad fixings, reach for the darkest varieties. The chlorophyll that gives them their color is loaded with magnesium, which some large studies have found lowers the risk of colon cancer in women. "Magnesium affects signaling in cells, and without the right amount, cells may do things like divide and replicate when they shouldn't," says Walker. Just ½ cup of cooked spinach provides 75 mg of magnesium, 20% of the daily value.

7. Snack on Brazil nuts
They're a stellar source of selenium, an antioxidant that lowers the risk of bladder cancer in women, according to research from Dartmouth Medical School. Other studies have found that people with high blood levels of selenium have lower rates of dying of lung and colorectal cancers. Researchers think selenium not only protects cells from free radical damage but may enhance immune function and suppress formation of blood vessels that nourish tumors.

8. Burn off this breast cancer risk factor
Moderate exercise such as brisk walking 2 hours a week cuts risk of breast cancer 18%. Regular workouts may lower your risks by helping you burn fat, which otherwise produces its own estrogen, a known contributor to cancer.

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9. Ask your doc about breast density
Women whose mammograms have revealed breast density readings of 75% or more have a cancer risk 4 to 5 times higher than that of women with low density scores, according to recent research. One theory is that denser breasts result from higher levels of estrogen—making exercise particularly important (see previous item). "Shrinking your body fat also changes growth factors, signaling proteins such as adipokines and hormones like insulin in ways that tend to turn off cancer-promoting processes in cells," Walker says.

12 Myths about breast cancer.

10. Skip the dry cleaner
A solvent known as perc (short for perchloroethylene) that's used in traditional dry cleaning may cause liver and kidney cancers and leukemia, according to an EPA finding backed in early 2010 by the National Academies of Science. The main dangers are to workers who handle chemicals or treated clothes using older machines, although experts have not concluded that consumers are also at increased cancer risk. Less toxic alternatives: Hand-wash clothes with mild soap and air-dry them, spot cleaning if necessary with white vinegar.

11. Head off cell phone risks
Use your cell phone only for short calls or texts, or use a hands-free device that keeps the phone—and the radio frequency energy it emits—away from your head. The point is more to preempt any risk than to protect against a proven danger: Evidence that cell phones increase brain cancer risk is "neither consistent nor conclusive," says the President's Cancer Panel report. But a number of review studies suggest there's a link.

The most powerful cancer fighting foods you can eat.

12. Block the sun with color
Choosing your outdoor outfit wisely may help protect against skin cancer, say Spanish scientists. In their research, blue and red fabrics offered significantly better protection against the sun's UV rays than white and yellow ones did. Don't forget to put on a hat: Though melanoma can appear anywhere on the body, it's more common in areas the sun hits, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have found that people with melanomas on the scalp or neck die at almost twice the rate of people with the cancer on other areas of the body.

13. Eat clean foods
The President's Cancer Panel recommends buying meat free of antibiotics and added hormones, which are suspected of causing endocrine problems, including cancer. The report also advises that you purchase produce grown without pesticides or wash conventionally grown food thoroughly to remove residues. (The foods with the most pesticides: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, and blueberries.) "At least 40 known carcinogens are found in pesticides and we should absolutely try to reduce exposure," Sellers says.

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.

Video: Everyday ways to reduce cancer risks

  1. Transcript of: Everyday ways to reduce cancer risks

    AL ROKER reporting: And now to TODAY'S HEALTH and everyday ways to reduce your cancer risk. According to the National Cancer Institute , more than 11 million people in the US live with cancer . And while you can't always prevent it, you can lower your chances of getting it. Dr. Nancy Snyderman is NBC 's chief medical editor, and Robbie Caploe is the executive editor of Prevention magazine. Good morning, everybody.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Good morning.

    Ms. ROBBIE CAPLOE (Prevention Magazine): Good morning.

    ROKER: So first of all, Nancy , you know, we're going to talk about some of the things...

    SNYDERMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: ...we don't normally think of.

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    ROKER: But what are some of the basics that we need to be doing?

    SNYDERMAN: Well, the basics, Al , are exactly the things you and I talk about that bore people to death, but they're really smart. You can't smoke, you have to eat a reasonable amount of food from reasonable places, and exercise.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: If people did those three things, it could reduce the heart disease and cancer risks in this country by half, bar none. Cigarettes are the only product that when used as directed will kill you.

    ROKER: Which is not a good thing. OK, let's get started.

    SNYDERMAN: Or at least not the way I want to do it.

    ROKER: I know, exactly. Robbie , for those of us who like grilling meat, you say first thing you ought to do if you're going to continue to grill meat, marinate the meat first.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Yes. It's a very...

    ROKER: Why?

    Ms. CAPLOE: It's a very important thing because research has shown that there are cancer -causing chemicals that are formed when meat is seared at very high temperatures. So what we like to recommend at Prevention is that people really do things that are smart. For instance, adding spices like rosemary and thyme to their marinade and soaking it for at least an hour before they start grilling.

    ROKER: What does that do?

    Ms. CAPLOE: The reason is that these spices are very rich in antioxidants.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. CAPLOE: And research has shown that they can cut the formation of cancer chemicals by as much as 87 percent, so it's a great thing to do.

    ROKER: So, I mean, what is it -- what is it?

    SNYDERMAN: But if you char your food, even if you marinate it and add the good stuff...

    Ms. CAPLOE: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: ...but if you char it you...

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: ...you create this chemical called nitrosamines, and that's the cancer -causing chemical. So it's a real reminder -- if you want to sear something to hold in the juices, that's one thing. But once it gets charred...

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: ...it's no good for you and your risk of cancer of the esophagus goes -- and cancer of the stomach goes up.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: And is there any limit or amount that you have to be eating?

    SNYDERMAN: Well, I don't think people should eat any more -- any red meat more than a couple times a week. And remember, it's the size of the palm of your hand.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: That's a serving size, no more.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Right.

    ROKER: All right, next tip, Robbie , is to snack on Brazil nuts . Why Brazil nuts ?

    Ms. CAPLOE: Brazil nuts are an incredibly great source of selenium. There was a recent study from Dartmouth Medical School that said that in fact if you eat a lot of selenium in your diet, it lowers your risk of bladder cancer in women. And there's other research that I'm sure you've seen some of this that really indicates that a high blood level of selenium is linked to lower rates of death from lung and colorectal cancer . The feeling seems to be that

    researchreally enhances our immune function and, in fact, it also suppresses the formation of blood vessels that can nourish tumors.

    SNYDERMAN: And, you know...

    Ms. CAPLOE: So that's big.

    SNYDERMAN: ...and not to be the killjoy, just remember that even the good nuts have a certain amount of fat in them.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: So if you really love your nuts, and I'm -- for me it's almonds and walnuts -- I count them out.

    ROKER: Yeah.

    SNYDERMAN: I mean, I really do. And at the end of the day , that's it.

    ROKER: Because they're calorically dense.

    SNYDERMAN: They are calorically dense, they have fat. It's good fat, but it's still fat.

    ROKER: All right.

    Ms. CAPLOE: And they fill you up, though.

    SNYDERMAN: Yeah.

    ROKER: Yeah. And the next thing I, which I find kind of interesting, you say when it comes to drinking water , you should use filtered tap water instead of bottled. Why, Robbie ?

    Ms. CAPLOE: Now, there's been a lot of controversy about this. But in fact, what has happened is that there was a recent report from the president's cancer panel on how to reduce your exposure to carcinogens, and it said that in fact home filtered tap water is a safer bet than bottled water . What they have found is that in some cases the quality of bottled water is no higher than and in some cases worse than water from municipal sources.

    ROKER: That's a little scary.

    Ms. CAPLOE: It's very scary.

    SNYDERMAN: Well, look, I think the whole bottled water thing is just such a hoax. I mean, it really...

    ROKER: They're not great for the environment.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: No. I mean, you don't know where it comes from. If you like fizzy water , that's one thing. But for regular old still water, most municipalities in the United States have extraordinarily good water. And you can find the standards on the EPA Web site.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: But if you want to go ahead and pour it into a filter in your refrigerator, great.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: But everyone needs to just chill and order water in a restaurant like normal people.

    ROKER: Like normal people.

    SNYDERMAN: You know, like normal people.

    Ms. CAPLOE: That's right .

    ROKER: Dry cleaning . Now, this one's interesting.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Yes. There's actually a solvent that's used in traditional dry cleaning that, according to the EPA , can be linked to certain kinds of kidney cancer .

    ROKER: Well, what about the ones you see, the environmentally safe, the green dry cleaning ? Is that any better?

    Ms. CAPLOE: It's hard to say. I mean, the EPA is not going to tell us, 'Look, never use a professional dry cleaner again.' But -- and it's, of course, mostly the people who work specifically with these products that are -- that are in danger.

    SNYDERMAN: Yeah.

    ROKER: So should those of us who take our clothes worry about this?

    SNYDERMAN: I mean, no. I think in the -- in the old days it was really benzene and it was people who were really doing the work...

    Ms. CAPLOE: Right.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: ...and they were getting liver and kidney cancer . For most of us who take the occasional article to the dry cleaner , that's not where the risk is.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: It's really more for the workers.

    ROKER: It -- the people who are working.

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    ROKER: And then finally, eat the really green greens.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Yes. What really gives the green greens their potency is the high level of chlorophyll because it has a lot of magnesium in them.

    ROKER: And what kind are we talking about?

    Ms. CAPLOE: We're talking about spinach. It...

    SNYDERMAN: Broccoli is the most perfect food on the face of the Earth .

    Ms. CAPLOE: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: And the more color you have in any vegetables, the better off you're going to be.

    Ms. CAPLOE: Right. Dark , dark, dark, think about it .

    ROKER: And yet, President Bush is still doing well.

    SNYDERMAN: I know. And you know what? And still taking a lot of heat for that, too.

    ROKER: Yeah, well, you know, he's allowed.

    SNYDERMAN: And -- but so -- for -- broccoli manufacturers of the world unite.

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