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Get the Facts: Five Free or Low-Cost Ways to Prevent Cancer

Focused on Health - August 2009

By Adelina Espat

As President Obama pointed out recently, it is important “ invest more in preventive care so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place. That starts with each of us taking more responsibility for our health and the health of our children.”

This is especially true for cancer, which is usually cheaper to prevent than treat. In fact, just making healthier lifestyle choices greatly lowers your chances of getting many common cancers. The American Cancer Society says we could avoid about one-third (186,000) of cancer deaths this year if we ate healthier meals and increased daily exercise.

Doing the five, healthy activities below can lower your chances of getting cancer. If money is your excuse for not getting it done, look under each activity to find cost-friendly options. No more excuses!

1.    Exercise daily

Experts suggest you do at least 30 minutes of low to high-intensity exercise five or more days a week, depending on your fitness level. Forty-five to 60 minutes of exercise that increases your heart rate is even better. Children and teens should do at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to high-intensity exercise at least five days a week. Gradually increase your exercise to 30 minutes a day if you currently aren’t exercising.  

Can’t afford a gym membership? Look at these great, low-cost exercise options:

  • Local city parks and recreation centers often offer a variety of cost-friendly options to keep you fit. This includes free or low cost gym memberships and sports programs for adults and kids. Parks also are a great place to go hiking, running, walking, or to play family sports. Contact your local parks and recreation center to learn about what’s available in your area.
  • Start an at-home gym by collecting used or low-cost workout DVDs. Bored with what you have at home? Call your local library and ask if they have workout videos that you can checkout. Another idea is to go online and search local classifieds for affordable, second-hand equipment.
  • Health and fitness organizations often offer free or low-cost programs to get you moving. Check out this list of organizations to find a program in your area. 

2.    Eat more fruits and veggies

Vegetables and fruits have lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber found to help prevent cancer. Eating five fruit and vegetable servings every day is a great way to keep a healthy weight. Remember to include a colorful variety in your weekly menu.

Buying enough fruits and vegetables to meet your five-a-day serving can get costly. Below are some cost-friendly tips to help you on your next trip to the store.

  • Your local farmer not only offers some of the freshest produce in town, but he or she also has some of the cheapest prices too. Search online or ask family and friends about farms in your area that sell seasonal fruit and vegetables.
  • An at-home fruit and vegetable garden really helps you cut this extra expense on your weekly grocery bill. New to gardening? Get some handy home and garden tips to get your started.
  • Nutrition assistance programs provide children and low-income adults with food and a healthful diet. See if any of these programs can help you or your family.

3.    Avoid tobacco

Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death in the United States. Each year, it causes about 169,000 cancer-related deaths, says the American Cancer Society.

Want another great reason to quit cigarettes? You could save up to $4,000 a year. Here are some free resources to help you quit.

  • M. D. Anderson smoking cessation studies help people quit tobacco through a variety of  free treatment methods. Find out if you are eligible to join one of these studies.
  • The Department of State Health Services Tobacco Prevention and Control provides several services to help you quit, including free written material, videos and counseling. 
  • The National Cancer Institute offers free information and support to help you quit smoking. Learn about their services.
  • The American Cancer Society Quitline provides tailored support, and the tools and steps to help you become smoke-free. Learn about this quitline.

4.    Practice sun-safety

More than one million cases of skin cancer are expected in 2009. Unprotected exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the number one cause of skin cancer.

Following sun-safety tips can get costly. Below are some suggestions to get the most out of your dollar.

  • SPF 15 sunscreen is just as good as SPF 70, if applied and reapplied properly. And, it’s usually much more affordable. Remember that the protection an SPF offers does not increase with the SPF number. SPF 15 absorbs 93% of the sun’s burning rays, while SPF 70 absorbs about 98%.
  • Sunglasses are a must to protect the eyes. You don’t have to buy costly, designer shades to get good ultraviolet (UV) protection. Many low-cost sports sunglasses not only offer UV protection but also offer polarized lenses, designed to reduce glare from surfaces such as water, snow and glass.When shopping for a new pair of sunglasses, look for ones that have broad UV protection that absorb at least 99% of UV rays. Also, consider buying ones with extra-large frames that protect the delicate skin around your eyes.
  • Cover-ups are another great way to protect your skin. If you cannot afford to buy brand name sun-protective clothing, look for items in your closet that may offer similar protection. Certain colors and fabrics offer more protection than others do. To increase your clothes’ skin cancer prevention powers, wear tightly woven, dark-colored fabrics. A simple way to test your tee’s UV level is to hold it up to a light bulb. If you can see the light coming through, it probably isn’t offering you enough protection.
  • Wide-brimmed hats shield the face, neck, ears and chest from the sun. When shopping for low-cost hats, look for ones that are tightly woven. If your hat of choice is straw, be sure the sun isn’t peeking through by holding your hat over the ground and looking at the shadow it casts. The shadow should not be speckled with light.

5.    Get regular check-ups

Wellness exams, or cancer screening exams, are medical tests done when you’re healthy, and you don’t have any signs of illness. They make sure that cancer is found at its earliest, most treatable stages. The chances of surviving colorectal, breast and cervical cancers are higher if found early. In addition to finding cancer early, screening exams for colorectal and cervical cancers also can remove abnormal cells that may turn into cancer. Doing this can prevent cancer altogether.

Many states and counties offer free or low cost screening exams for men and women who qualify. To learn about what your state offers, call the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER. Below are some additional resources for Texans.

  • The Breast and Cervical Cancer Services Program offers clinical breast exams, mammograms, pelvic exams and Pap tests at no or low-cost to women who qualify. Visit their site for more information.
  • Harris County Hospital District is a good resource to learn about low-cost screening services available in Harris County. Visit their site for a listing of upcoming events.  

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center