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Cancer prevention: 7 tips to reduce your risk

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Dec 9, 2022.

How do people lower the chances of getting cancer? There's plenty of advice. But at times, advice from one study goes against the advice from another.

Cancer prevention information continues to develop. However, it's well accepted that lifestyle choices affect the chances of getting cancer.

Consider these lifestyle tips to help prevent cancer.

1. Don't use tobacco

Smoking has been linked to many types of cancer, including cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, voice box, pancreas, bladder, cervix and kidney. Even being around secondhand smoke might increase the risk of lung cancer.

But it's not only smoking that's harmful. Chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the mouth, throat and pancreas.

Staying away from tobacco — or deciding to stop using it — is an important way to help prevent cancer. For help quitting tobacco, ask a health care provider about stop-smoking products and other ways of quitting.

2. Eat a healthy diet

Although eating healthy foods can't ensure cancer prevention, it might reduce the risk. Consider the following:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Base your diet on fruits, vegetables and other foods from plant sources — such as whole grains and beans. Eat lighter and leaner by choosing fewer high-calorie foods. Limit refined sugars and fat from animal sources.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all. Alcohol increases the risk of various types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, lung, kidney and liver. Drinking more increases the risk.
  • Limit processed meats. Eating processed meat often can slightly increase the risk of certain types of cancer. This news comes from a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.

People who eat a Mediterranean diet that includes extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts might have a reduced risk of breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet focuses mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. People who follow the Mediterranean diet choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, over butter. They eat fish instead of red meat.

3. Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active

Being at a healthy weight might lower the risk of some types of cancer. These include cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney.

Physical activity counts too. Besides helping control weight, physical activity on its own might lower the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer.

Doing any amount of physical activity benefits health. But for the most benefit, strive for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of hard aerobic activity.

You can combine moderate and hard activity. As a general goal, include at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine. More is better.

4. Protect yourself from the sun

Skin cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer and one of the most preventable. Try these tips:

  • Avoid midday sun. Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Stay in the shade. When outdoors, stay in the shade as much as possible. Sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat help too.
  • Cover your skin. Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Wear a head cover and sunglasses. Wear bright or dark colors. They reflect more of the sun's harmful rays than do pastels or bleached cotton.
  • Don't skimp on sunscreen. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Apply a lot of sunscreen. Apply again every two hours, or more often after swimming or sweating.
  • Don't use tanning beds or sunlamps. These can do as much harm as sunlight.

5. Get vaccinated

Protecting against certain viral infections can help protect against cancer. Talk to a health care provider about getting vaccinated against:

  • Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B can increase the risk of developing liver cancer. Adults at high risk of getting hepatitis B are people who have sex with more than one partner, people who have one sexual partner who has sex with others, and people with sexually transmitted infections.

    Others at high risk are people who inject illegal drugs, men who have sex with men, and health care or public safety workers who might have contact with infected blood or body fluids.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer and other genital cancers as well as squamous cell cancers of the head and neck. The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys ages 11 and 12. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of the vaccine Gardasil 9 for males and females ages 9 to 45.

6. Avoid risky behaviors

Another effective cancer prevention tactic is to avoid risky behaviors that can lead to infections that, in turn, might increase the risk of cancer. For example:

  • Practice safe sex. Limit the number of sexual partners and use a condom. The greater the number of sexual partners in a lifetime, the greater the chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection, such as HIV or HPV.

    People who have HIV or AIDS have a higher risk of cancer of the anus, liver and lung. HPV is most often associated with cervical cancer, but it might also increase the risk of cancer of the anus, penis, throat, vulva and vagina.

  • Don't share needles. Injecting drugs with shared needles can lead to HIV, as well as hepatitis B and hepatitis C — which can increase the risk of liver cancer. If you're concerned about drug misuse or addiction, seek professional help.

7. Get regular medical care

Doing regular self-exams and having screenings for cancers — such as cancer of the skin, colon, cervix and breast — can raise the chances of finding cancer early. That's when treatment is most likely to succeed. Ask a health care provider about the best cancer screening schedule for you.

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