Top 10 Ways To Prevent Cancer

Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Help Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

10 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

Cancer prevention - or at least reducing your risk for some cancers - may be easier than you think.  Sometimes even just a few simple lifestyle changes can dramatically lower your risk.  Certainly some people develop cancer even if they seem to be doing everything right, but studies tell us that well over half of cancers may be related to controllable environmental and lifestyle factors.

Avoid Smoking and Exposure to Smoke

Cigarettes in ash tray
Smoking is the number one risk factor and causes many different cancers. Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Smoking is the most significant cancer risk factor that we can reduce. It is responsible for not only lung cancer, but many other types of cancer are caused by smoking.

One of the best ways to prevent cancer is to quit smoking or never start. As soon as you quit, and it's never too late, your body reaps the benefits of being tobacco-free.

Avoiding secondhand smoke is also a way to prevent cancer. Secondhand smoke is the smoke exhaled from a smoker or a lit cigarette, pipe or cigar. This smoke contains more than 60 known carcinogens - cancer causing substances.

It's not just cigarette smoking that's a problem, however.  Cigar smoking can cause cancer, and we're learning that hookah smoking may be dangerous as well.

Practice Sun Safety and Recognize When Skin Changes Occur

abnormal mole on skin with sun shining on
Practice sun safety and know the signs of skin cancer. Photo©selvanegra

Did you know that over one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year? Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer among men and women, and it accounts for about half of all cancer diagnoses. The good news is that skin cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer.

The first step in preventing skin cancer is to avoid UV ray exposure. We can do this by wearing sunscreen, avoiding mid-day sun, wearing protective clothing and a hat when outdoors, and by staying away from tanning beds.

Being careful in the sun may not be enough though, and skin cancer may occur in areas which never see the sun.  If you have a lot of moles, keep an eye on them, and everyone should be familiar with recognizing the ABC's of melanoma.  It's also important to keep in mind that sunscreen hasn't yet been shown to reduce the risk of the most deadly form of skin cancer - melanoma - and the old fashioned ways of coping with the sun, may be the best way to reduce your risk.

As a last note here, staying safe in the sun can result in low vitamin D levels, and vitamin D deficiency raises the risk of several cancers.  Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level (the majority of people are low) and ask what you can if your level is low.

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies

fresh berries
Fill yourself up with fruits and vegetables to lower cancer risk. Photo©FlorianTM

A well-balanced diet is advantageous for many reasons. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables greatly reduces your risk not only of developing cancer but heart disease and many other conditions.

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which help repair our damaged cells. Eating a variety of these foods is your best bet, and researchers tell us to eat "the colors of the rainbow" in these foods.

Of these, cruciferous vegetables and berries pack an extra power punch, and include not only broccoli, but foods ranging from kale to cabbage and radishes to rutabaga. Learn more about the beautiful benefit of berries.

And there's good news here if you happen to be someone who smoked in the past or was exposed to secondhand smoke.  While the risk of lung cancer never goes back to that of someone who didn't smoke, you may be able to eat your way to a lower risk.  Check out these superfoods to lower lung cancer risk.

Check Your Home for Radon

radon sign over sky and clouds
Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers and exposure is totally preventable. Photo©Francesco Scatena

Radon exposure in our homes is a risk factor that is often forgotten, but important nonetheless.  Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer related deaths in both men and women in the United States, and radon is the second leading cause of this disease.  It is the number one cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, and lung cancer in never smokers is the 6th leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Radon gas is an odorless, colorless gas that's released from the normal decay of uranium beneath our homes, and has been found in all 50 states and around the world.  Since it's beneath our homes, in theory women and children are most at risk.  Radon is responsible for 23,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year (consider that breast cancer kills 40,000.) and exposure is 100% preventable -- but you have to know it's there.

Everyone should pick up a radon test kit for around $10 and check their home.  If the level is high, radon mitigation can work almost 100 percent of the time to normalize levels. 

For most people, this is probably the cheapest and easiest thing you can do to reduce your risk of dying from cancer if you aren't a smoker.

Limit Red Meat and Avoid Processed Meat

hot dogs on a grill with flame in background
Limit red and processed meats in a cancer prevention diet. Photo©Valenty Volkov

Numerous studies show that a diet high in animal fat increases the risk for several types of cancer, particularly colon cancer.

And while a high intake of red meat is of concern, those looking at packaged and processed meats are of even greater concern. (Condolences to those of you who love the hot dog vendor at games.)

Yet moderation, as with most things, appears to be the key (especially at ball games,) and we've been learning that the way we cook foods may be as important in cancer prevention as the actual foods. Did you know that simply marinating meat before grilling reduces the carcinogen content tremendously?  Check out these tips on reducing carcinogens in well done meat.

It can be hard to know where to start if you decide to cut back on these products.  Check out some of these healthy sources of protein.

Exercise for Cancer Prevention

shoes walking in the sun
Regular exercise may reduce the risk of several cancers. Photo©mladensky

Did you know that when you are exercise, you are reducing your risk for many types of cancer?  The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that everyone exercise 30 minutes or more daily.

Exercise doesn't have to mean going to the gym to lift weights.  Even activity as light as gardening a few times a week was found to reduce the risk of lung cancer.  Not only does moderate exercise simply make you feel better, but it's thought to cut the risk of colon cancer by up to 40%.

And even for people who already have cancer, exercise may make a difference in the risk of cancer coming back.

Know What You're Being Exposed to at Home and at Work

warning tape
Practice caution with chemicals you are exposed to at home and at work. Photo©Fredex8

Chemicals in your home and the workplace may increase your risk of developing many types of cancer.

Have you ever worried about what you may be exposed to in your home, especially when you are cleaning?  One study found that there were 216 chemicals - found in everyday products from cosmetics to cleaning supplies - which have been found to cause breast cancer in animals?  Some of these mimic that natural actions of estrogen in the body. 

Before you panic, just take time to read labels, wear gloves when cleaning, and practice good ventilation regardless of the products you work with. Learn to recognize the carcinogen hazard symbol on products, but keep in mind that the majority of chemicals used in commerce have not yet been tested for carcinogenicity (the ability to cause cancer.) 

Could your job be putting you at risk of cancer?  We know that the risk of several cancers - especially kidney cancer and bladder cancer - is increased by exposure to fumes, dusts, and chemicals.  In fact, it's thought that up to 27% of lung cancers in men are at least partially related to these exposures.  You have a legal right to know what you are being exposed to, so make sure you ask, and take time to read the Material Data Safety Sheets that your employer is required to provide.

Limit Your Alcohol Intake

2 alcoholic apertifs
Limit your intake of alcoholic beverages to reduce cancer risk. Photo©Ridofranz

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol regularly increases your risk of cancer. Studies suggest that men who consume 2 alcoholic drinks per day and women who have 1 alcoholic drink per day significantly increase their risk for certain types of cancer.

The calculations have even been done for some types of cancer.  It's thought that for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed daily on a regular basis, the risk of breast cancer goes up by 7 to 12%

Researchers aren't exactly sure why this is.  It's thought that alcohol may raise estrogen levels, decrease folate levels, or alter DNA methylation in cells.  Regardless of the mechanisms, however, limiting your intake is a good idea.

Know Your Family Medical History

family generation
Review your family history of cancer with your doctor. Photo©dolgachev

Knowing your family history of cancer is important, and we are learning more each day about the role of hereditary predisposition in the development of cancer.

Many people are aware that there are a few "breast cancer genes" but fewer are aware of the tie of genetics with other cancers.  For example, it's thought that 55% of melanomas have a genetic component.

Take a complete family history by asking your extended family members about cancer in the family.  Make sure to write down all cancers, as sometimes it is the combination of different types of cancer which raises risk the most.  Then talk to your doctor.  Some people may want to pursue genetic counseling or genetic testing based on their family history.

Learn more about the genetics of cancer and hereditary predisposition.

Practice Safe Sex

Laying in bed
Getty Images/PeopleImages

Just a few years back, people would have been surprised to see safe sex mentioned on a list of cancer prevention ideas.  With the approval of vaccines, however, the public has learned that the human papillomavirus is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer.

We've known for some time that some viruses can cause cancer.   The Epstein Barr virus is a well known culprit being implicated not only in half of Hodgkin's disease cases, but other leukemias and lymphomas as well.

Likewise, HPV as a cause of cancer isn't limited to the cervix.  It's not thought to be responsible for:

  • Up to 72% of cancers at the back of the throat (head and neck cancers)
  • 91% of anal cancers
  • 63% of penile cancers
  • 69% of vulvar cancers
  • 75% of vaginal cancers

Practicing safe sex can reduce your risk significantly, as can getting the shot.  Immunization is now recommended for kids between the ages of 10 and 12, but can be given as young as age 9 and as old as age 26.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link Between HPV and Cancer. Updated 09/30/15.

American Institute for Cancer Research. Recommendations for Cancer Prevention. Accessed 04/17/16.

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