Updated September 22, 2014.
Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com’s Medical Review Board.
Cancer prevention is easier than you think. With a few simple lifestyle changes, you can drastically reduce your risk of many types of cancer. Many factors play a role in cancer development, but the good news is that most can be avoided.
1 . Avoid Smoking and Exposure to Smoke
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. 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”. These carcinogens interrupt normal cell development. This interference is what ignites cancer development.
2 . Practice Sun Safety and Recognize When Skin Changes Occur
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 when outdoors, and by staying away from tanning beds. Here are some tips to get you started:
3 . Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
A well-balanced diet is advantageous for many reasons. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables greatly reduces your risk of developing cancer and many other conditions.
Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which help repair our damaged cells. Green, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are your best bet to help prevent cancer. Studies also show that dark fruits, like blueberries and grapes, may also have anti-cancer properties.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower appear to pack a powerful punch at preventing cancer, according to numerous studies. Other cruciferous vegetables include bok choy, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage.
4 . Limit Red Meat and Animal Fat
Numerous studies show that a diet high in animal fat increases the risk for several types of cancer, particularly colon cancer. Red meat contains much more fat than poultry and fish, so reducing the amount of red meat in your diet may help to prevent cancer. A diet high in fat also is major cause of obesity, which is a risk factor for many types of cancer.
5 . Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol regularly increases your risk factor for many types 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 factors for certain types of cancer.
6 . Exercise for Cancer Prevention
Did you know that when you are exercise, you are reducing your risk for many types of cancer? The American Cancer Society recommends exercising 30 or minutes, at least 5 days a week for cancer prevention. Exercising doesn’t have to mean going to the gym to lift weights. There are plenty of ways to get exercise into your day. Check out these 10 ways to prevent cancer through exercise for great gym alternatives.
7 . Know Your Personal and Family Medical History
Knowing your family history of cancer is important to properly assess your risk factor for certain types of cancer. We know that cancers like breast, colon, ovarian, and possibly other types can be hereditary.
If you know that a certain type of cancer runs in your family, let your doctor know. Together, you can determine a proper screening plan and assess your true risk. Genetic testing and counseling is available and may be recommended based on your family’s medical history.
8 . Know What You’re Being Exposed to in Your Work Environment
Chemicals in the workplace may increase your risk of developing many types of cancer, including kidney cancer and bladder cancer. If you are exposed to fumes, dust, chemicals, etc. in the workplace, you have a legal right to know what you are being exposed to. Gasoline, diesel exhaust, arsenic, beryllium, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, mustard gas, and chloromethyl ethers are all carcinogens and can be found in some work environments. Talk to your employer about limiting exposure.
9 . Practice Safe Sex
You may wonder what sex has to do with cancer. Unsafe sex can result in the infection of the human papillomairus (HPV), a known cause for cervical cancer and a risk factor for many other types of cancer. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that is spread through sexual, skin-to-skin contact. A vaccine, Gardasil, to prevent HPV was approved by the FDA in 2006 and protects against four strains of HPV that are associated with cervical cancer and other types. HIV/AIDS is also associated with some types of cancers.
10 . Get Screened for Cancer Regularly
Cancer screening tests can be useful not only in detecting cancer, but also helping prevent it. Screening tests like the colonoscopy and Pap smear can detect abnormal cellular changes before they turn cancerous. The key to their effectiveness, however, is that they are done regularly.
Other cancer screening tests are available and may be useful for early detection, but not necessarily cancer prevention. Prostate cancer screening through digital rectal exams and PSA tests can help detect prostate cancer early. Mammograms and other imaging tools are also recommended to detect breast cancer in women.