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Health library

Heading off cancer

Cancer is responsible for nearly 1 out of every 5 deaths in the United States. Prevention is the best hope for cutting that number.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that cancer kills more than 1,600 Americans every day, making it second only to heart disease as a cause of death in this country.

Although cancer may never be eliminated, experts agree that the best hope for shrinking those numbers is to prevent as many cases as possible.

Fortunately, several preventive measures can make a big difference in cancer risk. And since cancer tends to develop slowly over several years, you have a wide window of opportunity to make a difference.

The ACS, the National Cancer Institute and the American Institute for Cancer Research offer this advice on reducing your risk of cancer:

  • Don't smoke or use tobacco in any form. Avoid secondhand smoke whenever you can.
  • Eat a diet rich in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Limit fat, salt and red meat.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • At work, always wear recommended protective clothing and follow safety procedures when working with or around dangerous chemicals or substances.
  • Know the risks of drinking alcohol.
  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible, and wear sunscreen every day.
  • Get moderate exercise every day.
  • Follow guidelines for cancer screenings and exams. When cancer is found early, treatment is most likely to be effective.
  • Don't ask for x-rays that your doctor doesn't recommend. When you do need x-rays, ask about a protective screen for the parts of your body that aren't being imaged.
  • Protect yourself from viruses that are linked to cancer. These include human papillomavirus (HPV), which is passed on during sex and can lead to cervical cancer, and hepatitis B, which can spread during sex, from needles used for tattoos, body piercing, medical purposes or drug use, or through shared toothbrushes or razors. The ACS recommends routine HPV vaccination for boys and girls—as well as vaccination for young men and women who have not completed the series—and the hepatitis B vaccine for all children as well as adults under 60. Your doctor can help you determine which vaccines are appropriate for you.

Reviewed 3/21/2024

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