It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint why one person develops cancer, and another doesn’t. What's true is that some elements influence your likelihood of getting cancer. You may wonder if there's anything you can do to decrease your chances. The answer is yes. Regular screenings, for instance, allow your doctor to check for risk factors like family and smoking history, age, and obesity, even when no symptoms are present.
Depending on your age, gender, and other factors, you may need breast, colorectal, cervical, lung, skin, or prostate cancer screening. The testing frequency depends on whether you are at an average or high risk for developing those cancers. Don’t know which tests you may need or how often to get them? Your doctor can create a screening schedule for you.
Knowing the facts can help you take action to reduce your risk. Marcia Gruber-Page, System Vice President for the Oncology Clinical Institute at CommonSpirit Health, shares four key cancer prevention and early detection facts.
1 in 3 people will develop cancer in their lifetime.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. The good news is that some types of cancer can be caught early or prevented. While age is a significant risk factor, younger adults should also be proactive about their health. Knowing your family history, watching your weight, exercising, limiting sun exposure, avoiding secondhand smoking or tobacco use, and following through with your physician's recommendations for screening tests are vital.
Family history is just one piece of the puzzle.
Knowing if certain cancers run in your family is essential, but it’s also important to consider your individual risk and other factors. Some risk factors, such as age and genetics, are unavoidable. But others, such as alcohol and tobacco use, sunlight exposure, certain sexual behaviors, obesity, and radiation, can be modified. Focus on avoiding or controlling those and making healthy changes to your lifestyle. Healthy changes, known as protective factors, include regular physical activity, a healthy weight, a balanced diet, a tobacco-free lifestyle, vaccinations, and sun protection.
Healthy habits matter in cancer prevention.
The choices you make every day can help you prevent or detect cancer early when treatment is most likely to be effective. Most adults benefit from regular exercise and healthy eating habits, and the foods you eat might also reduce your cancer risk. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, processed meats raise the risk of certain cancers. While eating healthier foods doesn’t guarantee cancer prevention, it will benefit your health in more ways than one. Avoid red meat and processed meats such as ham, sausage, pepperoni, and hot dogs, as these are linked to cancer risk.
The same can be said about regular physical activity. Research shows a strong link between higher physical activity levels and a lower risk of bladder, breast, colon, kidney, and stomach cancers. Staying active is good for just about everyone, including cancer survivors.
If you use any tobacco products, consider making a quit plan. Smoking and other forms of tobacco are not only associated with 90% of lung cancers but also increase your risk of cancers of the mouth, stomach, liver, kidney, bladder, and many more. A tobacco-free lifestyle can improve your health and dramatically reduce your risk for other diseases. There’s no safe form of tobacco. If you smoke, vape, or chew tobacco, talk to your health care provider about a quitting plan.
Vaccines and checkups are vitally important.
The HPV vaccine can prevent several kinds of cancer and is recommended for preteens starting at age 9. Some adults who are not vaccinated already may also get it. The hepatitis B vaccine protects against hepatitis B, a liver disease that can lead to liver cancer. This vaccine is available for all age groups, including babies, children, and adolescents.
Regular checkups can also help you manage chronic conditions and uncover health problems. They also give you a greater chance of spotting health issues before they spread or become untreatable. Some common routine cancer-related tests include skin checks and breast and cervix exams. Ask your doctor about other vaccines or screening tests you may need to stay healthy.
Cancer screenings can help prevent or detect cancer early when treatment is most likely to be effective. But there are also things you can do to lower your risk. Start by collecting your family history and sharing it with your doctor or clinician. This information can help your provider determine what cancer screenings you may need or whether you need a screening test at an earlier age. You can also reconsider some habits and make lifestyle changes to improve your health.
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