You already know that living a healthy lifestyle offers a number of benefits — you feel great, enjoy good health, and have plenty of energy. But taking good care of your body and eating a healthy diet has another benefit that you might not be aware of: you can help reduce your risk of esophageal cancer. Many times, cancer simply isn’t preventable. But in the instance of esophageal cancer, there are a lot of things you can do to help reduce your risk.
Why Reducing Your Risk for Esophageal Cancer Is So Important
Esophageal cancer is one of the most dangerous types of cancers, so it’s important to do what you can to prevent it from affecting you. Esophageal cancer is often diagnosed at advanced stages , when the cancer has already spread into other parts of the body — making treatment difficult and the prognosis poor. Symptoms typically don’t appear until late stages, and many people aren’t regularly screened for esophageal cancer unless there’s a strong likelihood that they’ll develop the disease.
“We have found a definite correlation between squamous cell esophageal cancer and smoking and drinking, so experts tell people ‘don’t smoke, and limit your amount of alcohol intake,'” says Wayne Hofstetter, MD, associate professor and director of the esophageal program at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Tex. “ADENOCARCINOMA” (the other common type of esophageal cancer) risk factors include smoking, being overweight, having reflux diseases and hiatal hernia — those things can lead to Barrett’s esophagus (a sometimes pre-cancerous condition).”
Dr. Hofstetter also stresses the importance of diet when it comes to reducing your risk of esophageal cancer. “It may be [caused in part by] diet — eating out, eating fatty foods. We get a little bit overweight and that increases the pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. That additional pressure may lead to a hiatal hernia — the extension of the stomach inappropriately up into the chest,” says Hofstetter. Overall, Hofstetter recommends that people eat better, exercise regularly, take steps to maintain their weight, and avoid smoking to reduce their risk of esophageal cancer.
Here are five easy steps to put Dr. Hofstetter’s suggestions into action and reduce your risk of developing esophageal cancer:
- Banish the booze. Drinking in moderation is fine, but too much alcohol can significantly raise your risk of getting one of the main types of esophageal cancer. Stick to drinking alcohol only occasionally, or limit yourself to no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman or two drinks if you’re a man.
- Toss your cigarettes. Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for esophageal cancer, and there are of course a number of other health problems that can arise from smoking as well. Quit today, right now, and your cancer risk will immediately be reduced. You don’t have to go at it alone —get help quitting so you can stick with it — your doctor can provide you with resources to make quitting easier for you.
- Watch your weight. Being obese not only increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes, it’s also a plus-sized indicator of your risk for esophageal cancer. Finding a diet and exercise program that works for you can help you maintain a healthy body weight for a lifetime of good health and reduced cancer risk.
- Eat right. It may be tough to squeeze in the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, but it’s a small price to pay to prevent esophageal cancer. Grab fruit for a snack, or add it to your cereal, oatmeal, salad, or even dessert. Add veggies to every meal; they also make great snacks. Watch the amount of red and processed meats in your diet, and always opt for whole-grain food choices when possible.
- Control Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). If you have persistent heartburn, popping pills to reduce your symptoms and then ignoring it is not the answer. See your doctor about getting GERD under control. GERD is a major risk factor for esophageal cancer, and it can be controlled early enough to possibly prevent esophageal cancer. You should also ask your doctor if you should be checked for a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which occurs in about 10 to 15 percent of people with GERD. You may need regular monitoring of your condition to check for early signs of esophageal cancer.
Taking these five steps can help keep you healthy and reduce your risk of developing esophageal cancer for years to come.