News from Illinois CancerCare

Healthier and Happier in 2019

During the holidays, many of us spend countless hours shopping, wrapping and delivering gifts to show our loved ones just how much we care about them. But when it comes right down to it, the best present is our presence.

And the best way to assure them of your presence for many years to come is to make choices that help you stay healthy and avoid diseases like cancer. As you’re making your New Year’s resolutions, we encourage you to think about much time you spent shopping and to shift some of that energy toward developing healthy habits and scheduling recommended healthcare screenings.

Lifestyle Upgrades

Although some of these habits seem like “old news,” it’s always good to revisit tips to see if there have been any changes to previous recommendations based on new research. In addition, there will always be new suggestions for improving your health.

  • Avoid tobacco in all forms (cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, etc.)
  • Eat a diet heavy in plant-based, unprocessed foods (fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, etc.)
  • Limit intake of red meat and processed meats; choose lean cuts when eating red meat
  • Manage your weight to prevent obesity
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption; avoiding binge drinking
  • Exercise regularly, aiming for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity, five days a week
  • Protect your skin by using sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds; wear a hat and avoid mid-day sun when possible
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B
  • Find out if you’re eligible for the HPV vaccine; the FDA has recently rolled out new guidelines approving it for a much broader age range
  • Practice safe sex to avoid contracting HPV (which can lead to several types of cancer) and HIV (which has been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers)
  • Visit your dentist twice a year; they can spot cancers of the mouth and throat

When To Get Checked

While some cancer screening guidelines are clear cut, there are others that vary based on a variety of factors including your age, gender, personal history, family history, environmental factors, current symptoms and other issues.

In addition, new research sometimes updates previous recommendations—this has occurred with mammograms and colonoscopies, for example. Always ask your primary care provider (PCP) or healthcare specialists for their direction regarding your specific needs.

For the purpose of this article, we’re including the typical age when most people start various screenings. We’re NOT including the ongoing frequency since that varies by person and changes at different times throughout their lives. Please be aware that these guidelines are for those at average risk:

  • Pap test (and HPV as needed): Women starting at age 21
  • Mammogram: Women starting at age 45 (age 40-44 optional)
  • Colonoscopy: Men and women starting at age 45
  • Prostate Test: Men starting at age 50
  • Lung Cancer Screening: Active or former smokers should ask their physician starting at age 55

Find a Partner

Just like it’s more fun to shop with friends, developing healthy habits works better when you’re not doing it on your own. We think it’s a great idea to have a “better health buddy” so you can…

  • Exercise together (walking and yoga are two good choices)
  • Share recipes or suggestions for healthy restaurant options
  • Team up to kick your smoking habit
  • Schedule mammograms for the same day, then treat yourselves to a pedicure
  • Keep each other accountable to book (and keep) important exams like colonoscopies
  • Encourage each other

Start small and don’t be too hard on yourself. No one is perfect, but we can all take steps toward improvement.