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12.7: Cancer Prevention

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    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 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.

    Get Moving 

    Adults: Each week, get at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity  or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (or a combination of these). Getting to or doing more than the upper limit of 300 minutes is ideal.

    Children and teens: Get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity every day.

    Moderate activity is anything that makes you breathe as hard as you do during a brisk walk. During moderate activities, you’ll notice a slight increase in heart rate and breathing. You should be able to talk, but not sing during the activity.

    Vigorous activities are performed at a higher intensity. They cause an increased heart rate, sweating, and a faster breathing rate.

    Don’t be a couch potato - limit the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down.

    Doing some physical activity above usual activities, no matter what one’s level of activity, has many health benefits.

    Cancer Screening 

    If you are 21 to 50, here's what you need to know about screening tests for certain cancers:

    Colon Cancer Testing 

    Find out if you are at higher than average risk for colon cancer because of family history, genetic disorders, or other factors. If not, then testing is not needed at this time. If you are at increased risk, talk to a health care provider about when you need to start testing and what tests are right for you.

    All people at average risk should start testing at age 45. There are several testing options. Talk with a health care provider about which tests are best for you and how often testing should be done.

    Breast Cancer Testing 

    All women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away. Find out if you are at higher than average risk for breast cancer. If not, then testing is not needed at this time. If you are, talk to a health care provider about when you need to start getting mammograms or other screening tests.

    Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. The pros and cons of screening should be considered when making this decision.

    Starting at age 45, women should get mammograms every year.

    Cervical Cancer Testing 

    No test is needed before age 25.

    Starting at age 25 and through age 65, all people with a cervix should have a primary HPV test* every 5 years. If a primary HPV test is not available in your area, then acceptable options include a co-test (an HPV test done at the same time as a Pap test) every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years. (*A primary HPV test is an FDA approved test that is done by itself for screening.) The most important thing to remember is to get screened regularly, no matter which test you get.

    Follow testing recommendations even if you've been vaccinated against HPV.

    You don't need testing after surgery that removed the cervix as long as it was done for reasons not related to cervical cancer or pre-cancer.

    Prostate Cancer Testing 

    Starting at age 45, men at higher than average risk of prostate cancer should talk with a doctor about the uncertainties, risks, and potential benefits of testing so they can decide if they want to be tested. This includes African American men and men with close family members (father, brother, son) who had prostate cancer before age 65.

    Men with more than one close relative who had prostate cancer before age 65 are at even higher risk and should talk with a doctor about testing starting at age 40.

    Contributors and Attributions

    Public Domain Content


    This page titled 12.7: Cancer Prevention is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kelly Falcone via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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