As the second leading cause of death in the United States, the threat of cancer can be scary. But the good news is that some of the most common cancer risk factors are within your control. By making a few lifestyle changes, you can reduce your odds of developing cancer, not to mention a host of other health conditions. Even for the causes of cancer that are beyond your control—like inheriting genetic mutations—you can use that information to take the best steps to protect your health.
“The first five risk factors on this list should be: smoking, smoking, smoking, smoking, and smoking,” says David N. Oubre, MD, an oncologist and the founder of the Pontchartrain Cancer Center, which has two offices in Louisiana. That’s how dangerous your cigarette habit can be.
The more often you smoke and the longer you smoke, the riskier it becomes. Smoking increases your risk of not only lung cancer but also cancer in areas around your mouth, like your throat and esophagus. Your body’s digestive organs, including the liver, bladder, pancreas, kidney, stomach, and colon, can also take a hit.
The National Cancer Institute reports that there are 250 harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke and at least 69 of them can cause cancer. Think arsenic and formaldehyde. And your cigarette habit doesn’t only affect you. Secondhand smoke can also cause lung cancer in nonsmokers.
So how can you quit this unhealthy habit for good? “It really starts with a decision that not only am I going to quit, but I’m really going to quit—despite the cravings. Because they will get cravings,” says Dr. Oubre.
While there isn’t one method that works for everyone, there are many effective ways to quit smoking. You just have to find one that works best for you and your lifestyle. If nicotine gums and lozenges don’t work, consider Chantix, a nicotine-free pill that helps reduce cravings.