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Cancer Prevention

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One of the biggest factors that can make a person more likely to get cancer is age: 3 out of 4 cancers are found in people aged 55 or older. But there are many other factors that affect cancer risk and some of them can be changed. It is only natural that people are looking for more ways to prevent cancer.

What you can do -- NOW -- to reduce your risk of cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, there is strong evidence that an individual's risk of developing cancer can be substantially reduced by healthy behavior:

The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2015 about 1,658,370 people will be diagnosed with cancer, and of that number 589,430 people are estimated to die from cancer related causes. 154,040 of those diagnosed will be related to tobacco use alone.

Source: SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Lung and Bronchus Cancer

Can cancer be prevented?

Sometimes cancer can be prevented. Looking at the whole country, it is quite possible that more than half of cancer deaths could be prevented -- if no one used tobacco and if everyone took steps to improve their health. Of course, that is a big "if."

But is there a way to guarantee that you or your loved ones won't get cancer? So far, nothing has been found that is proven to prevent every case of cancer. Right now we know there are ways to prevent many cases of cancer in large groups of people. For example, almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. The virus has also been linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat. In addition to following a healthy lifestyle and cancer screening guidelines, vaccinating against HPV will be a step toward preventing cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anus and throat cancer.

Source: American Cancer Society Learning About New Ways to Prevent Cancer.

Lifestyle Choices May Prevent Cancer

For people who do not use tobacco, the most important cancer risk factors that can be changed are body weight, diet, and physical activity. One-third of all cancer deaths in the United States each year are linked to diet and physical activity, including being overweight or obese, while another third is caused by tobacco products.

Some diet and exercise recommendations developed by the American Cancer Society’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee and approved by the American Cancer Society National Board of Directors are:

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life
  • Be physically active
    • Adults:
      Get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each day (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.
    • Children and teens:
      Get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity each day, with at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week.
  • Limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, watching TV, and other forms of screen-based entertainment.
  • Doing some physical activity above usual activities, no matter what one’s level of activity, can have many health benefits.
  • Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods
  • Get Routine Medical Care
    • Mammogram
      Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health, or up to age 70 if there are no other risk factors.
    • Colonoscopy
      Beginning at age 50, both men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should use one of the screening tests:
      • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
      • Colonoscopy every 10 years
      • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years
      • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years
    • Pap smear
      All women should begin cervical cancer testing (screening) at age 21. Women aged 21 to 29, should have a Pap test every 3 years. HPV testing should not be used for screening in this age group (although it may be used as a part of follow-up for an abnormal Pap test). Beginning at age 30, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years. This is called co-testing and should continue until age 65. Another reasonable option for women 30 to 65 is to get tested every 3 years with just the Pap test.
  • Other Health Tips
    • Individuals should check their skin for moles that are new, large, or irregular; contain more than one color; or change color.
    • An open dialogue with a family doctor supports important preventive measures on a timely basis, and if any tests suggest possible cancer, the result can be further explored quickly.
    • Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a periodic (regular) health exam by a health professional, at least every 3 years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year.

Can cervical cancer be prevented?
American Cancer Society recommendations for colorectal cancer early detection
Can breast cancer be found early?

Learn more in our Nutrition section. If you use tobacco and want to quit, see our How to Stop Smoking web page.

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