Top 10 Ways To Prevent Cancer

Simple lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of cancer

Reducing your risk for cancer may be easier than you think. Sometimes, it requires little more than a few lifestyle changes to make all the different. And while, yes, people can still get cancer even they do all the "right" things, research tells us that nearly half of all cancers are linked to avoidable factors we can control.

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 control. It is responsible for not only lung cancer but many other types of non-pulmonary cancer.

One of the best ways to reduce risk is to quit smoking or never start. In the end, it's never too late to stop, and your body will reap benefits even if you've smoked for 20, 30, or even 40 years.

And it's not just cigarettes we're worried about. Cigar smoking is equally problematic, and there's even increasing evidence that hookah smoking may be dangerous, as well.

Even if you don't smoke, avoiding secondhand smoke is key to reducing risk. If someone is bothering you with their smoke, don't sit quietly and tolerate it. Either move or ask them to put it out.

Practice Sun Safety

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

Over one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. It is today the most common type of cancer among men and women, accounting for about half of all diagnoses.

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

It's also important to remember that skin cancers can develop in parts of the body that never see sunlight. If you have a lot of moles, keep an eye on them, and learn the ABCDE Rules to better spot signs of malignancies.

Finally, while sunscreen is must, it hasn't yet been shown to reduce the risk of melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer. As such, avoiding direct sunlight as much as you can is still – and will always be – the best plan of action.

Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

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, diabetes, and other serious illnesses, as well.

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which help repair damaged cells. Of these, cruciferous vegetables and berries pack an extra punch with a multitude of vitamins, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals. In addition to berries, these include such vegetables as broccoli, kale, cabbage, radishes, and rutabaga.

There are even a  number of superfoods known to reduce cancer risk in persons previously smoked or have been exposed to secondhand smoke. Can you think of any better way to "eat your way to good health"?

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 homes is something we often don't think about, even though it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., and the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, accounting for 23,000 deaths each year.

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is released from the normal decay of uranium. It has been found in all 50 states and around the world and can affect not only the air we breathe but the water we drink. 

To avoid the ill effects of radon exposure, buy a radon test kit for around $10 at your nearest hardware store. If levels are high, radon mitigation technologies can normalize levels to where they are harmless and less likely to contribute to the development of cancer.

Limit Red Meat and Avoid Processed Meats

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 of several types of cancer, including colon cancer. And while a high intake of red meat is of concern, packaged and processed meats present even a greater risk

Moderation is to be the key when it comes to the intake of these foods, but pay attention to how you prepare them, as well. Did you know, for instance, that marinating meat can significant reduce the reduce carcinogenic content before grilling? 

Moreover, trimming fat from red meat is not only good for your heart health, it can reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer. Research has shown that fatty foods boost the production of bile acids and hormones that contribute to the respective diseases.

By contrast, vegetarians are almost 40 percent less like to develop cancer when compared to red meat eaters.

Exercise for Cancer Prevention

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

When you exercise, you are not only making yourself healthier, you are decreasing your risk of certain types of cancers, as well.

The American Institute for Cancer Research currently recommends that everyone exercise for at least 30 minutes per day. This doesn't mean having to go to the gym to lift weights. Even activities as light as gardening a few times a week can significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer.

Moderate exercise, by contrast, will not only improve your cardiovascular health, it is believed to cut the risk of colon cancer by as much as 40 percent.

Even for those who have already have cancer, exercise can make a big difference in preventing the recurrence of certain cancers.

Know What You're Being Exposed to at Home and 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 can significantly increase your risk of developing many types of cancer.

One study, in fact, found that no less than 216 chemicals found in everyday products – from cosmetics to cleaning supplies – were linked to cancer risk in animals. 

Always take the time to read labels when choosing products, whether at home or work. Practice good ventilation and wear gloves when working with harsh chemicals or cleaners. Learn to recognize the carcinogen hazard symbol on product labels (while being that aware that the majority of chemicals used in commerce have not been tested for carcinogenicity).

When at work, don't be afraid to ask what chemicals you're being exposed in the course of your employment. It's not only your prerogative; it's your legal right. Read the Material Data Safety Sheets (MDSS) your employer is required to provide and contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) if you have any questions or concerns.

Limit Your Alcohol Intake

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

It can be of little surprise to anyone that drinking excessively significantly increases your risk of cancer. Numerous studies have shown that men who consume as little as two drinks per day and women who consume one have far greater change of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) but other types of cancers, as well.

In fact, for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed on a daily basis, the risk of colorectal cancer goes up by seven percent. The risk of breast cancer is even greater, with the same 10 gram of alcohol corresponding to as much as 12 percent increase.

So cut back if you can and seek alcohol treatment if you are unable to stop. Treatment options vary, but many are offered free for those seeking rehab or support.

Know Your Family Medical History

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

A family history of cancer is one of those factors you can't change per se but can help us make better choices when it comes to avoiding cancer.

Most of us know, for example, that certain genes can predispose one to breast cancer. Increasing evidence now suggests that other cancers (such as melanoma) might soon be flagged by genetic testing, as well.

When meeting with a doctor, take the time to construct a complete family history, including any cancers or illnesses a relative may have had. By doing so, you and your doctor can a formulate a strategy to address the factors you can control, with the aim of reducing your personal cancer risk.

Practice Safe Sex

Laying in bed
Getty Images/PeopleImages

We have known for some time that certain viruses can cause cancer.   The Epstein-Barr virus, for example, has long been implicated in nearly half of all Hodgkin's disease diagnoses, as well as several types of leukemias and lymphomas.

One of the biggest threats today, however, is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) called the human papillomavirus (HPV), a viral infection responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

HPV is also thought to be responsible for other types of cancer, including:

  • 72% of head and neck cancers
  • 91% of anal cancers
  • 63% of penile cancers
  • 69% of vulvar cancers
  • 75% of vaginal cancers

Practicing safe sex can significantly reduce your risk of cancer by prevention of the virus. Consistent condom use, whether for vaginal, anal, or oral sex, is still considered among the best means of preventing STDs, including HPV and HIV.

Certain individuals can also reduce risk by getting the HPV vaccine. Immunization is now recommended for all children between the ages of 10 and 12.  Persons of up the age of 26 can also get vaccinated, especially if they are at high risk of infection.


American Institute for Cancer Research. "Recommendations for Cancer Prevention." Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer - Global Report. November 2007.

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