It’s estimated that nearly nine million people die from cancer each year. But research shows that more than half of those cancers could be averted if known prevention strategies were optimally used. Most tumors are incurable once they reach an advanced stage, which means that prevention is our best weapon for combating cancer. A 2018 World Health Organization report concluded that, even for cancers with effective treatment options, prevention has the greatest potential to reduce the burden of cancer in the general population.
Research has shown that at least one-third of all cancer cases are preventable, some by improving health behaviors, and others by increasing uptake of vaccines. Precision prevention and early detection focus on the use of patients’ molecular and biological characteristics to prevent cancer occurrence, intercept cancer progression, and detect tumors early.
Getting regularly screened for various cancers is one of the best ways to ensure that you are healthy. Screening can catch tumors early, when they are easier to treat than after they’ve had a chance to grow over time. Below is information about screenings for some common forms of cancer.
Finding breast cancer early and getting state-of-the-art cancer treatment are the most important strategies to prevent deaths from breast cancer. Breast cancer that’s found early, when tumors are small and have not spread, is easier to treat successfully. The most reliable way to detect breast cancer early is for women to get regular screening tests.
- Women ages 40 to 44 may elect to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast).
- Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years or can elect to continue yearly screening.
For people at average risk for colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends starting regular screening at age 45. This can be done either with a sensitive test that looks for signs of cancer in a person’s stool or with a visual exam in which a practitioner examines the colon and rectum.
The American Cancer Society recommends cervical cancer screening with an HPV (human papillomavirus) test alone every five years for everyone with a cervix from age 25 until age 65. If HPV testing alone is not available, people can get screened with an HPV/Pap cotest every five years or a Pap test every three years.
- Cervical cancer screening should start at age 25. People under age 25 should not be tested, because cervical cancer is rare in this age group.
- People between the ages of 25 and 65 should receive a primary HPV test every five years. If a primary HPV test is not available, a co-test (an HPV test with a Pap test) every five years or a Pap test every three years are still good options.
The American Cancer Society recommends that at the time of menopause, all women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Women should report any unexpected vaginal bleeding or spotting to their doctors. Because of their health history, some women may need to consider having a yearly endometrial biopsy. Please consult with a health care provider about your health history.
The American Cancer Society recommends yearly lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) for certain people at higher risk for lung cancer who meet the following conditions:
- Are aged 55 to 74 years and in fairly good health and currently smoke or have quit smoking in the past 15 years and have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history. (A pack-year is one pack of cigarettes per day per year. One pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years would both be 30 pack-years.)
The American Cancer Society recommends that men make an informed decision with a health care provider about whether to be tested for prostate cancer. Research has not yet proven that the potential benefits of testing outweigh the harms of testing and treatment. Experts believe that men should not be tested without first learning about what is known and not known about the risks and possible benefits of testing and treatment.
Although the American Cancer Society does not have guidelines for the early detection of skin cancer, knowing your own skin is important to finding skin cancer early. You should know the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you’ll notice any new moles or changes in existing moles.
Find out about the many cancer screenings available to you.
The global health landscape is in a period of rapid transformation. Public health triumphs in the 20th century have led to increases in life expectancy of as much as 30 years in many parts of the world. However, behavioral changes, such as increased drinking, smoking, and consumption of processed foods, as well as increased exposure to environmental pollutants, could cause cancer incidence to rise as much as 57 percent over the next two decades. Below are some areas in which lifestyle changes can benefit your health and help prevent cancer.
Some cancer risk factors, such as genetics and environment, are out of your control, but research suggest that eating a healthy diet may greatly reduce a person’s risk of developing cancer. Choosing nutrient-rich whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can have a powerful effect on your health.
Note: The Healthy Eating Plate image on this website is owned by Harvard University. It may be downloaded and used without permission for educational and other noncommercial uses with proper attribution, including the following copyright notification and credit line: Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Harvard Health Publications.
According to MD Anderson Cancer Center, staying active can help you lower your risk of many types of cancer, including breast, colorectal ,and uterine cancers. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, boost your metabolism, and regulate hormone levels.
While research remains ongoing, evidence has shown that poor and insufficient sleep is associated with weight gain, which is a risk factor for cancer.
Living tobacco free
We now know that smoking is responsible for many diseases, including cancer. Cigarette smoking directly causes over 90 percent of lung cancers, and secondhand smoke causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in nonsmokers. One study estimates that 17 percent of lung cancer in nonsmokers results from exposure to tobacco smoke during their childhood years.
In general, the American Cancer Society (ACS) does not determine if a substance is a carcinogen cancer (that is, if it causes cancer). Instead, the ACS relies on the determinations of other respected agencies, such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP).
Find out more about suggested lifestyle changes to help protect yourself from getting cancer.