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Medicine LibreTexts

13.4: Cancer Prevention

  • Page ID
    13415
  • How Can Cancer Be Prevented?

    The number of new cancer cases can be reduced and many cancer deaths can be prevented. Research shows that screening for cervical and colorectal cancers as recommended helps prevent these diseases by finding precancerous lesions so they can be treated before they become cancerous. Screening for cervical, colorectal, and breast cancers also helps find these diseases at an early stage, when treatment works best.

    Vaccines (shots) also help lower cancer risk. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent most cervical cancers and several other kinds of cancer, and the hepatitis B vaccine can help lower liver cancer risk.

    A person’s cancer risk can be reduced with healthy choices like avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol use, protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, keeping a healthy weight, and being physically active.

    Avoiding Tobacco

    Cigarette Smoking

    Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and cigarette smoking causes almost all cases. Compared to nonsmokers, current smokers are about 25 times more likely to die from lung cancer. Smoking causes about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Smoking also causes cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voicebox (larynx), trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.

    Visit smokefree.gov to learn how you can quit smoking.

    Secondhand Smoke

    Adults who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20% to 30%. Concentrations of many cancer-causing and toxic chemicals are higher in secondhand smoke than in the smoke inhaled by smokers.

    Protecting Your Skin

    Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and tanning beds appears to be the most important environmental factor involved with developing skin cancer. To help prevent skin cancer while still having fun outdoors, protect yourself by seeking shade, applying sunscreen, and wearing sun-protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses. For more information, visit What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Skin Cancer?

    Detecting melanoma

    Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole. Most melanomas have a black or black-blue area. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking.”

    Thinking of “ABCDE” can help you remember what to watch for:

    • Asymmetry – the shape of one half does not match the other

    • Border – the edges are ragged, blurred or irregular

    • Color – the color is uneven and may include shades of black, brown and tan

    • Diameter – there is a change in size, usually an increase (larger than 6 millimeters or about 1/4 inch)

    • Evolving – the mole has changed (in size, color, shape; it may start to itch or bleed) over the past few weeks or months

    Limiting Alcohol Intake

    Drinking alcohol raises the risk of some cancers. Drinking any kind of alcohol can contribute to cancers of the mouth and throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast (in women). The less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of cancer.

    Studies around the world have shown that drinking alcohol regularly increases the risk of getting mouth, voice box, and throat cancers.

    A large number of studies provide strong evidence that drinking alcohol is a risk factor for primary liver cancer, and more than 100 studies have found an increased risk of breast cancer with increasing alcohol intake. The link between alcohol consumption and colorectal (colon) cancer has been reported in more than 50 studies.

    Keeping a Healthy Weight

    Research has shown that being overweight or obese substantially raises a person’s risk of getting endometrial (uterine), breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. Overweight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. Learn how to choose a healthy diet at Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight, and read about exercise at Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight.

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