Prevention of Cancer

Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer. In 2014, about 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States. In addition to the physical problems and emotional distress caused by cancer, the high costs of care are also a burden to patients, their families, and to the public. By preventing cancer, the number of new cases of cancer is lowered. Hopefully, this will reduce the burden of cancer and lower the number of deaths caused by cancer.

Cancer is not a single disease but a group of related diseases. Many things in our genes, our lifestyle, and the environment around us may increase or decrease our risk of getting cancer.

Source: NCI (NIH)1

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Back to: « Cancer

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Primary Prevention

It has been estimated that more than one third of all cancers are preventable. Prevention also offers the most cost-effective, long-term strategy for reducing the European burden of diseases. This is why primary prevention by tackling major health determinants, such as smoking, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, is a long-term priority for the Commission.

Source: EC (EU)2

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Every year, more than 300,000 men in the United States lose their lives to cancer. You can lower your cancer risk in several ways.

What You Can Do

  • Don’t smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke. More men in the United States die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, and cigarette smoking causes most cases.
  • If you’re 50 or older, get screened for colorectal cancer. Screening tests can help prevent colorectal cancer or find it early, when treatment works best.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun and tanning devices, but fewer than 15% of men use sunscreen regularly when outside for more than an hour. When you’re outside, follow our easy sun safety tips for men.
  • Stay active and keep a healthy weight. Adopting a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity can help lower your risk for several kinds of cancer.

Source: CDC Features3

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What You Can Do

  • Don’t smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke. More women in the United States die from lung cancer than any other kind of cancer, and cigarette smoking causes most cases.
  • Get recommended screening tests for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer. Screening tests are the best way to find these cancers early, when they are easier to treat.
  • Protect your skin from the sun and avoid indoor tanning. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun and tanning devices.
  • Stay active and keep a healthy weight. Adopting a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity can help lower your risk for several kinds of cancer.

Source: CDC Features4

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Cancer Prevention Starts in Childhood



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Photo of two parents and three children sitting outsideYou can reduce your children’s risk of getting cancer later in life. Start by helping them adopt a healthy lifestyle with good eating habits and plenty of exercise to keep a healthy weight. Then follow the tips below to help prevent specific kinds of cancer.

Stay Safe in the Sun

Just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life. Follow our sun safety tips to protect their skin from the sun whenever they’re outdoors.

Indoor tanning and tanning outside are both dangerous. Don’t let your children or teens tan.

Get Your Kids Vaccinated Against HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex, is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV infection also can cause many vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers.

The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cancer. Both boys and girls should start and finish the HPV vaccine series when they are 11 or 12 years old. Teen girls and young women through 26 years, as well as teen boys and young men through 21 years, who haven’t started or finished the series should get those shots as soon as possible. The HPV vaccine can be given beginning at age 9.

Talk to Your Kids About Smoking and Cancer

The best way to prevent cancer caused by smoking is for kids to never start. Most people start smoking during adolescence. Nearly 9 out of 10 smokers start smoking by age 18, and 99% start by age 26.

In 2011, 44.7% of high school students reported that they had at least tried smoking. One in five high school students was a current smoker. Talk to your children about why you don’t want them to smoke.

Smoke from other people’s cigarettes (“secondhand” smoke) can cause lung cancer. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke for nonsmokers. Don’t expose your children to secondhand smoke. You can quit now.

Source: CDC Features5

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Cancer Prevention in the Workplace

Your job can have a big influence on your health. Learn how employers can help their employees lower their cancer risk.

Making the Workplace Safe

Employers can help reduce workers’ cancer risk by addressing—

  • Harmful exposures in the workplace. Asbestos, diesel exhaust, and radon are examples of harmful substances that may be present in workplace settings. These substances can increase a person’s risk for certain types of cancer and should be eliminated or reduced as much as possible. Smoke from other people’s cigarettes (secondhand smoke) increases cancer risk in workers who don’t use tobacco themselves, and tobacco-free workplace policies can help protect workers. Outdoor workers are often exposed to the sun for long periods of time, which increases their risk for skin cancer. Providing shade and protective gear to outdoor employees can help them stay sun-safe on the job.
  • Unhealthy behaviors. Certain behaviors can also increase cancer risk; for example, tobacco use (both smoking and chewing), alcohol consumption, poor eating habits, and not getting enough physical activity. Workplace wellness programs can help promote healthful behaviors among workers. Examples include tobacco use cessation programs, seminars on health topics such as healthy eating and stress management, walking programs, and healthy choices in vending machines.
  • Chronic conditions. Diabetes and obesity are examples of chronic conditions that increase risk for certain types of cancer, including cancers of the female breast, colon, endometrium, and pancreas. Workplace wellness programs such as weight management programs and preventive screenings can help employees successfully manage or even prevent chronic conditions.

Source: CDC Features6

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How can exposures to carcinogens be limited?

In the United States, regulations have been put in place to reduce exposures to known carcinogens in the workplace. Outside of the workplace, people can also take steps to limit their exposure to known carcinogens, such as testing their basement for radon, quitting smoking, limiting sun exposure, or maintaining a healthy weight.

Source: NCI (NIH)7

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Reducing your risk of cancer

Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer.

For example:

Read more about how a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your chances of developing cancer.

Source: NHS Choices UK8

Prevention of Cancer

Physical Activity: Physical Activity Linked to Reduced Cancer Risk

Leisure-time physical activity—such as walking, running, or swimming—is associated with a reduced risk of developing 13 different types of cancer, a new study reports.

Past research has shown that the benefits of physical activity can include weight control; strengthening bones and joints; and reducing the risk for heart disease and other disorders. An international research team decided to take a close look at the links between physical activity and different types of cancer.

The researchers pooled data from 12 studies that together followed 1.44 million people over time to assess cancer risk. Study participants ranged from 19 to 98 years old. They were surveyed about time spent in moderate to vigorous leisure-time physical activities. The scientists took into account factors such as age, smoking, alcohol use, diet, and education.

During a follow-up of about a decade, 187,000 new cases of cancer arose. People with the highest level of leisure-time physical activity had a reduced risk for 13 of 26 types of cancer compared to those with the lowest level of activity.

Those with the highest activity had a 20% lower risk for 7 cancer types: esophageal adenocarcinoma, liver, lung, kidney, gastric cardia, endometrial, and myeloid leukemia. They also had a 10-20% lower risk for myeloma and cancers of the head and neck, rectum, bladder, and breast.

“Leisure-time physical activity is known to reduce risks of heart disease and risk of death from all causes. Our study demonstrates that it’s also associated with lower risks of many types of cancer,” says study lead author Dr. Steven Moore of NIH. “Health care professionals counseling inactive adults should promote physical activity as a component of a healthy lifestyle and cancer prevention.”

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)9

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Physical Activity: Moving more and sitting less can reduce your risk for many serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain kinds of cancer. Some studies suggest that physical activity can have mental benefits as well, helping to relieve depression and maintain thinking abilities as you age. Healthful physical activity includes exercise as well as many everyday activities, such as doing active chores around the house, yard work, or walking the dog.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)10

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Red Wine: It has been suggested that certain substances in red wine, such as resveratrol, have anticancer properties. However, there is no evidence that drinking red wine reduces the risk of cancer.

Source: NCI (NIH)11

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Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Many studies have investigated whether anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, reduce the risk of cancer. However, a clear answer is not yet available. For more information, see No Easy Answers about Whether Aspirin Lowers Cancer Risk.

Source: NCI (NIH)12

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Aspirin: One of the most intriguing prospects in cancer prevention is a cheap and very familiar drug: aspirin. In fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task ForceExit Disclaimer is working on recommendations for the use of aspirin to reduce cancer risk.

Aspirin is already widely used. Tens of millions of people in the United States take it daily to reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke. And numerous studies over the last two decades have suggested that taking aspirin on a regular basis may substantially lower a person’s risk of developing or dying from cancer.

Source: NCI (NIH)13

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  1. Source: NCI (NIH): about-cancer/ causes-prevention/ patient-prevention-overview-pdq
  2. Source: EC (EU): health/ major_chronic_diseases/ diseases/ cancer_en
  3. Source: CDC Features: cancer/ dcpc/ resources/ features/ CancerAndMen/ 
  4. Source: CDC Features: cancer/ dcpc/ resources/ features/ WomenAndCancer/ index.htm
  5. Source: CDC Features: cancer/ dcpc/ resources/ features/ cancerandchildren/ 
  6. Source: CDC Features: cancer/ dcpc/ resources/ features/ cancerpreventioninworkplace/ 
  7. Source: NCI (NIH): about-cancer/ causes-prevention/ risk/ hormones/ reproductive-history-fact-sheet
  8. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ Cancer/ 
  9. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): issue/ jul2016/ capsule1
  10. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): issue/ may2015/ feature1
  11. Source: NCI (NIH): about-cancer/ causes-prevention/ risk/ alcohol
  12. Source: NCI (NIH): about-cancer/ causes-prevention/ risk/ chronic-inflammation
  13. Source: NCI (NIH): about-cancer/ causes-prevention/ research/ aspirin

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.