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The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on May 21, 2021.

Cancer prevention

Don’t smoke.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Eat a medley of fruits and vegetables.
Exercise regularly.

These are common prevention tips—important ones, too—that may reduce the risk of developing cancer. Some risk factors you can’t control, but more than 40 percent of all cancer cases and cancer deaths in the United States are “linked to modifiable risk factors—and thus could be preventable,” according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Early detection is also key, because that’s when treatment options are more likely to have positive outcomes. That means scheduling all recommended screening tests and knowing how to recognize concerning symptoms.

General prevention measures

Risk factors may be connected to multiple types of cancer. For example:

The following steps may go a long way in lowering the risk for cancer:

  • Don’t smoke; quit tobacco use and avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet that’s mainly plant-based and avoids fatty and processed foods.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol consumption—no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men.
  • Avoid overexposure to the sun and ultraviolet (UV) light.
  • Receive recommended vaccinations, including for hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Practice safe sex.
  • Get annual check-ups.

Screening tests for cancer

Some cancer screenings may detect cancer before symptoms appear. A main goal of screening is to decrease the number of people dying from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). There are health risks with many cancer screenings, so the NCI recommends asking your doctor about the benefits and harms of any specific procedure.

Common screening tests may include:

Your doctor may recommend other tests as well, such as a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test for prostate cancer, or a skin exam to check for skin cancer and possible melanomas.

Eating and exercise as cancer prevention tools

The ACS offers these suggestions:

Diet:

  • Watch portion sizes.
  • Limit the intake of high-calorie foods and drinks, avoiding those that are high in fat or added sugars.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables of different colors—dark red, green and orange—and whole-grain foods.
  • Choose fish, poultry and beans over red meat or processed meats for protein sources.

Exercise:

  • Physical activity for adults should include moderate activities such as a brisk walk and more vigorous activities that cause a sweat. Weekly recommendations include 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate activity and 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise.
  • Cut back on sedentary activities such as lying on a couch or watching TV.

Questions to ask your doctor

It’s a good idea to discuss concerns with your care team. Here are some questions that may help:

  • Which cancer screenings do I need to have done now, and which ones should I schedule in the future?
  • What weight range is most desirable for me, and are there particular foods I should be eating or avoiding?
  • How much exercise should I aim for each week? Are there specific exercises that may be most beneficial to me?
  • What’s the best way to perform a personal risk assessment for cancer?
  • Does the history of cancer in my family put me at higher risk for the disease? Should I consider genetic testing?