Cancer Prevention

What is cancer?

The World Health Organization estimates that between 30%-50% of all cancer cases are preventable. Prevention has many layers to it, and it is directly influenced by personal behavior and lifestyle choices. In addition to behavioral changes, you can adopt other strategies of cancer prevention, which include receiving vaccinations and routine cancer screenings when appropriate.  

Behavioral Prevention 

Physical inactivity is a prominent, yet controllable, risk factor for the development of cancer. In general, those who are not physically active ate at increased risk for developing cancer, as well as many other types. Doctors recommend individuals should exercise 30 minutes a day. This could be a brisk walk outside, a powerlift at the gym, a short yoga session in your living room, or whatever else you desire that gets you up and moving. Exercising does not have to be an activity to dread. In fact, exercise releases hormones, such as endorphins, adrenaline, dopamine, and more, that are associated with the feeling of happiness.    

Being overweight or having obesity puts the individual at a more elevated risk than those at a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is important to mitigate adverse health effects and is crucial for reducing your risk of developing cancer. This is particularly true in the case for women following menopause and men later in life. Exercise can help with this, as can eating well. This applies for both underweight and overweight individuals – aim to achieve a healthy weight and a healthy body mass index, or BMI, to keep your body in the best state you can.    

Diet has a large impact on health overall and is important to consider in your journey with cancer prevention. Basing your diet around proper nutrition is crucial for maintaining personal health. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and other food from plant sources. In addition, limit your consumption of processed foods, and particularly processed meats. It has been concluded that consuming large amounts of processed meats increases the risk of developing certain types of cancers.  

Drinking alcohol is another risk factor for developing cancer; studies show that there is a direct correlation between drinking alcohol and developing certain cancer types. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk. Be sure to moderate and limit your alcohol consumption.  

In addition, smoking is a risk factor that is entirely preventable. Smoking not only elevates your risk for developing lung cancer, but it also has a negative impact on your health overall and increases your risk for developing cancer in general. Using tobacco has links to numerous types of cancer, including, but not limited to, lung, mouth, throat, larynx, pancreas, bladder, cervical, breast, and kidney cancer. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke elevates your risk of lung cancer.  

Reproductive history is less controllable, yet still within your own hands. Safe sex-practices are important for cancer prevention. Limiting the number of sexual partners, you have and using a condom limits your risk of contracting diseases like HPV and HIV. Studies show that women who wait to have their first pregnancy after the age of thirty years old are at increased risk for developing breast cancer, and those that decide to never have children are at elevated risk as well. In addition, if you have children, breastfeeding them is one way to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Regarding cervical cancer, having your first full-term pregnancy prior to the age of 20, or having more than three full-term pregnancies in your lifetime elevates your risk.  

Sharing needles is a big no no. No matter your situation, sharing needles with others increases your risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, which each have links to contracting various cancers. One should seek professional help for any guidance about drug misuse or addiction.  

It is important to limit your exposure to toxins and other substances in your environment.  

  • Air pollution is estimated to have contributed to 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide with links to the development of lung cancer. Limit your outdoor exposure to air pollution, especially if you live in an urban area with high levels of pollution in the air. Inhaling these toxins is not good for you.  
  • Carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, increase your risk of developing cancer. The most common example of this is asbestos exposure and the development of mesothelioma, an aggressive lung cancer.  
  • Radiation exposure increases your risk of developing various types of cancers. UV radiation is toxic to humans and can increase one’s risk of developing skin cancer. Using sunscreen is crucial. In addition to UV radiation, one should be aware of the radiation they are receiving during x-rays and other medical procedures, as each instance of exposure increases your risk slightly. Discuss the risks of radiation exposure during your medical procedures when appropriate.  

When considering your risk for skin cancer, the most obvious way to decrease your risk is to practice sun-safe tips.  

  • Avoid the sun at its highest points. Staying indoors or using sunscreen when outdoors during the hours of 10 am and 4 pm is recommended to avoid the sun’s rays when they are the strongest.  
  • Stay in the shade when outdoors. In addition, wearing sunglasses and a wide hat are recommended to increase shade coverage.  
  • Covering exposed areas of skin is important to limit the rays that reach your skin.  
  • Use adequate amounts of sunscreen. Using broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of at least 30 is important, and one should reapply every two hours.  
  • Avoid using tanning beds and sunlamps, as these are just as damaging as natural sunlight. 

These tips are all personal. Each of them you must choose to implement, and you must choose to commit to. This is not something you do for others; improving your personal health is a task you must do for yourself alone. If you find that you are lacking in one or more of these points, that does not mean you are doomed. Begin to implement them slowly and incorporate them into your life over time. If it is best for you, choose one to implement and stick to it. After mastering one, select another to add to your routine.   


There are vaccines that decrease your risk of developing some cancers, in addition to their benefit of immunity to certain diseases.  

  • Hepatitis B and hepatitis C both increase the risk of developing liver cancer. This vaccine is recommended for high-risk adults, including those who are sexually active, those with STIs, those who use intravenous drugs, and healthcare or public safety workers who may be handling bodily fluids and may become exposed.  
  • Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer. It is also linked to other genital cancers, as well as squamous cell cancers of the head and the neck. This vaccine is recommended for those aged 11 and 12 but can be administered anytime between the ages of 9 and 45.  

Understand Your Genetic Predisposition  

If you have a known family history of certain cancers, you are at an increased risk for developing those that “run in the family.” Converse with your family members about your family’s medical history so you can talk with your doctor about your predispositions. Talking to your doctor is most necessary if you are at an increased risk so that you can stay alert about the potential for you to develop that specific cancer and that screenings can be, in some cases, completed with a higher frequency due to your predisposition. 


You might be thinking, what is a screening, and how can it help?    

The goal of a screening is to detect cancer early, so that it can be taken care of early. The later cancer is detected, the more likely it is that it has developed into a stage that is more detrimental to your health. Screenings mitigate the likelihood of you developing a late-stage cancer, because screenings are typically conducted before the patient has any symptoms of the disease.  

  • Mammograms are the best method of detecting breast cancer early. This involves taking an x-ray of the breasts to assess for cancer. 
  • The pap test and the HPV test are both used to screen for cervical cancer. The pap test can find abnormal pre-cancerous cells in the cervix, while the HPV test screens for the presence of the HPV virus that causes the cells to become abnormal.  
  • There are numerous methods of screening for colorectal cancer, which almost always develops from precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum. Screening tests are used to discover these growths so they can be removed.  
  • Low dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans are used to screen for lung cancer. This involves using x-ray technology to gather images of the lungs so that a doctor can assess the images for abnormalities. This is highly recommended for individuals that have a history of heavy smoking, are current smokers, and are between the ages of fifty and eighty.  
  • The prostate-specific antigen test and the digital rectal exam are both screening methods for identifying prostate cancer. Following these tests, the doctor may perform an ultrasound, MRI, or collect a sample of tissue to assess the cells.  
  • The only method of skin cancer screening is a visual examination of the body by oneself or by a medical professional, likely a dermatologist. Report any abnormalities, unusual moles, or changes in your skin to your doctor.