The exact causes of different types of cancer are complex and include many variables. We do, however, know that there are genetic, lifestyle, and environmental risks. In fact, one-third of all cancers are linked to a poor diet, physical inactivity, or excess weight.

Body Weight

Next to quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the most important things you can do to prevent cancer. Excess body weight has been linked to cancers of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, and kidneys. Balance your intake of calories with your activity to prevent future weight gain. If you need to lose weight, exercise more and decrease calorie intake to produce weight loss of about one to two pounds per week.

Nutrition-Rich Foods

A plant-based diet is best when considering cancer risk reduction. Certain foods that contain important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants can have a protective effect against cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends getting at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and to focus on the colorful varieties because they tend to be more nutrient dense. In addition to having great cancer-fighting properties, fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber and water, which can help control weight.

In addition to produce, also make sure to focus on whole grains: Aim for at least three servings daily. Whole grains not only have more fiber than refined grains, but also they have important cancer-fighting phytonutrients. Choose whole-grain varieties of rice, pasta, bread, and tortillas, and consider trying other whole grains such as barley, quinoa, and millet. It is easy to make the switch to brown rice and whole-wheat bread and to include foods such as oatmeal and corn on a regular basis.

Avoid Harmful Foods

Certain foods contain chemicals or additives that may increase risk of cancers such as those of the colon and prostate. These foods are processed meats such as hot dogs, bologna, and luncheon meats. Choose fresh and less processed meats whenever possible.


Studies in recent years have made a stronger connection between alcohol use and certain cancers, especially those of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breasts. It is the amount of alcohol over time that increases risk, not the type. It doesn't matter if you drink beer, wine, or liquor—it all counts. Even a few drinks per week can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer in women.

By maintaining a healthy weight, filling your plate with produce and whole grains, and avoiding alcohol you will be well on your way to fighting against cancer.

To learn more about cancer, visit the Cancer Learning Center.