Everyday Bad Habits That Can Increase Your Cancer Risk

It seems like every day there’s a new report about something that could cause cancer. However, there’s one thing you should pay attention to when it comes to your cancer risk: Your daily habits. Habits you engage in on a daily basis could be increasing your chances of getting cancer. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that 40% of cancer cases and half of cancer deaths are a result of bad habits.

Here are seven things you might be doing to raise your cancer risk. Are you practicing one of these potentially deadly habits?

1. Heavy drinking

Bartender pouring shots into shot glasses

Your favorite boozy drinks may lead to cancer. | Bogdanhoda/Getty images

Having an alcoholic beverage every now and then might not hurt you. However, heavy drinking can put your health at risk. Overdoing it with the alcohol raises your risk of developing cancer of the breast, colon, esophagus, larynx, liver, mouth, and throat, according to American Cancer Society. The more you drink, the higher your chances are of developing these cancers.

Alcohol raises cancer risk because it can act as an irritant. Cells can become damaged by the alcohol and might try to repair themselves. Consequently, this could result in DNA changes that can lead to cancer.

2. Excessive stress

Couple sitting on the floor next to moving boxes looking upset

Reduce your stress levels whenever possible — you’re hurting your body and brain. | Antonio Guillem/iStock/Getty Images

It’s hard to not have some type of stress in your life. We all have stressors from work, family, and just the day-to-day trials of life. However, excessive and frequent stress can put you at risk for cancer.

Researchers even found that some cancers could be linked to work stress. Lung cancer is thought to be linked to work-related stress. One reaction your body might have to constant stress at work is increased heart rate and breathing faster. If you’re constantly facing work pressure, this can put stress on your lungs and cause complications with your respiratory system over time, according to the Lung Institute.

3. Lack of sleep

Asleep girl stopping alarm clock

Your sleep routine matters more than you think. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Generally, adults need an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. If you don’t make an effort to get more sleep, you could put your health in danger. The National Sleep Foundation reports that people with circadian rhythm disorders (this is when the body’s biological clock is disrupted because of working shifts, for example) may be at a higher risk. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer found a link between women’s irregular work schedules and breast cancer rate.   

4. Smoking

woman's hand holding a cigarette

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. | iStock.com/Terroa

Although most people know smoking causes cancer, some continue the habit because they think it won’t happen to them or they’re just too addicted to stop. Even if you only smoke one or two cigarettes a day, you could still be doing your body harm. Smoking contributes to 80% and 90% of cancer deaths among women and men respectively, according to The American Lung Association.

5. Obesity

Woman trying to close jeans button with difficulty from belly fat

Weighing too much increases your risk of developing many different types of cancer. | iStock.com/wckiw

Being a few pounds overweight might not do much harm, but being obese is a different story. Obesity raises your risk of developing cancer of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, and pancreas, according to the American Cancer Society. Furthermore, having too much belly fat has been linked with a higher risk of colon and rectal cancer, as well as a higher risk of cancers of the pancreas, endometrium, and breast.

6. Poor nutrition

junk food consisting of fries, onion rings, chips, soda, and a burger

Skip this heaping pile of junk food to lower your cancer risk. | iStock.com

Lowering your cancer risk could be as simple as cleaning up your diet. Eating a balanced diet is key to maintaining your health and reducing your chances of getting preventable diseases. Researchers have found you can lower your cancer risk by limiting meat consumption, eating more whole grains, and increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables. Bananas, for example, have been found to reduce the risk of cancer and asthma, lower blood pressure, and improve heart health.

7. Lack of exercise

Woman doing balasana yoga at the gym, with focus on hands

Get your body moving to stay in optimal health. | iStock.com/jacoblund

When you lead a busy life, it can be hard to get a few minutes of exercise in each day, but it’s important. Leading a sedentary lifestyle is another way you could raise your cancer risk. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates roughly 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. are linked to factors such as body fat, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition, reports the American Cancer Society.


doctor setting a patient up for cancer treatment

Here are a few resources to help you better understand different types of cancer. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There are several tools available to help you learn more about reducing your cancer risk or to take care of yourself if you have received a cancer diagnosis. Here are some tools to assist you:

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