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Ways to Prevent Cancer

Did you know that many choices you make every day can lower your risk for several types of cancer?

Research shows that up to 50% of cancer cases and about 50% of cancer deaths are preventable with the knowledge we have today.

Here are eight ways to reduce your cancer risk or detect cancer early, which leads to better outcomes.

1. Know your family health history and get recommended cancer screenings

Share your family health history with your health care provider and discuss cancer screenings. Some tests can help detect cancer early, when treatment is more likely to be successful, and some can also detect precancerous conditions before they become cancer. While screening has been proven to save lives, screening guidelines may not be “one size fits all.”

2. Don’t use tobacco

Tobacco use (including cigarettes, cigars, hookah, chewing tobacco and more) has been linked to many types of cancer, including lung, colorectal, breast, throat, cervical, bladder, mouth and esophageal cancers. It’s best to never start using tobacco, but if you do use tobacco products, it’s never too late to quit. According to the American Cancer Society, cigarette smoking rates reached a historic low in the U.S. in 2021. However, smoking still accounts for about 30% of all cancer deaths. About 80%-90% of all lung cancers are related to cigarette smoking.

Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also at risk for lung and other types of cancer, as well as other diseases. E-cigarettes can also cause serious health risks and can  lead to addiction or serve as a gateway to other tobacco products. The Prevent Cancer Foundation stands firm in discouraging the use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

3. Protect your skin from the sun

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S. and is one of the most preventable cancers. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation causes most skin cancers. Be sure to use adequate sun protection year-round. Never use indoor tanning beds.

4. Eat a plant-based diet

Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, limit red meat and foods high in salt and cut out processed meats. Avoid drinks with added sugar. A large 2021 study found that three servings of vegetables (not starchy ones, like potatoes) and two of fruit (not juice) every day resulted in a 10% lower risk of death from cancer.

5. Avoid or limit alcohol

Drinking alcohol is linked to several cancers, including breast, colorectal, esophageal, oral and liver cancers. To reduce your risk of cancer, it’s best to avoid alcohol completely. If you do choose to drink, limit your drinking to no more than one drink a day if you were assigned female at birth, and no more than two drinks a day if you were assigned male at birth. The more you drink, the greater your risk of cancer. Even small amounts of alcohol might increase your risk.

6. Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active

Obesity is linked to many cancers, including those of the endometrium, liver, kidney, pancreas, colon and breast (especially in post-menopausal women). Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week can make a big difference in your general health and well-being and can help in maintaining a healthy weight. Make it a priority to move more and sit less. If you spend most of your time at work sitting at a desk, for example, find a way to get up and move around every hour. Physical activity is linked to a lower risk of colorectal, breast and endometrial cancers, and there is some evidence that also links it to reducing the risk of other cancers. Add exercise to your routine to reduce stress, increase energy, boost your immune system, control your weight and reduce your risk of cancer.

7. Practice safer sex and avoid risky behaviors

Certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer, oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils) and at least four other types of cancer. Because HPV is spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex, using a condom the right way every time you have sex can help protect you, but it is not 100% protection. The hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses can be spread from person to person through sex or blood (for example, by sharing needles and syringes for injection drug use). The hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses can cause long-term liver infection that can increase your chance of developing liver cancer. Avoid risky behaviors and practice safer sex to decrease your risk of hepatitis B or hepatitis C and liver cancer.

8. Get vaccinated against HPV and hepatitis B

Getting vaccinated can protect you from certain viruses that are linked to cancer. One of these viruses is HPV. All children should get vaccinated against HPV between ages 9-12, and older teens and young adults (ages 13- 26) who have not been vaccinated can get a “catch-up” vaccination series. In the U.S., most liver cancers are linked to hepatitis B or hepatitis C. A hepatitis B vaccine is available and is recommended for all children and adults up to age 59, as well as adults age 60 and over who are at high risk for hepatitis B infection. Testing and treatment are available for both hepatitis B and hepatitis C.