Eight Most Preventable Cancers
According to the American Cancer Society, one third of American women and half of American men will be diagnosed with some form of cancer over the course of their lives. Only five to ten percent of cancer cases, however, are directly attributed to a genetic source. Of course, some non-genetic factors are outside of our control: chemical exposure, second-hand smoke, carcinogens in the workplace, and so on. But there are still a great many things we can do to limit our cancer risks – eat right, exercise, use sun protection, get regular checkups, avoid known carcinogens (cigarettes and pollution) – and the first among them is the easiest: be informed.
Start by learning about the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer:
- Breast Cancer: Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and not smoking all help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Many women do still develop breast cancer, and the best way to survive it is through early detection. The five-year survival rate for women whose early-stage breast cancer is caught and treated before it spreads is 99%. That means it’s imperative for women to have annual breast exams after age 20 and annual mammograms after 40, earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer.
- Cervical Cancer: Cervical cancer is largely preventable. First, always practice safe sex. HPV (human papillomavirus) is a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer. Avoiding HPV limits your risk of developing cervical cancer, as does avoiding smoking and obesity. From age 20, women should have routine annual gynecological exams including Pap and HPV testing.
- Colorectal Cancer: Colorectal cancer impacts men and women equally. People who are over 50; sedentary; obese; drink alcohol excessively; eat significant amounts of red meat; have family histories of colorectal cancer, benign polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Making dietary changes, exercising, and limiting alcohol consumption can all help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Lung Cancer: We all know that smoking dramatically increases your risk of lung cancer, as it does with other cancers. Second-hand smoke, however, is also a serious danger, so avoiding smoke altogether is a great way to avoid lung cancer. Further, having your home radon tested can help identify this invisible carcinogen in your household. There has been a surge in the cases of “never smokers” developing lung cancer in recent years, and scientists are still trying to discern what the cause of these cases may be.
- Oral Cancer: A quarter of all people who develop oral cancer do not smoke, use other tobacco products, or drink excessively, which are the major risk factors for this cancer. That makes it even more important for people to see their dentists regularly, because oral cancer screenings are part of a standard dental cleaning and exam. You can also minimize your risk of oral cancer by using lip balms with 30+ SPF, as sun damage can cause lip and mouth cancers.
- Prostate Cancer: Prostate cancer is most common in men of African descent, those over age 50, and men with a family history of this specific cancer. The standard advice of not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly all apply to prostate cancer. But the additional key here is early detection. All men, and particularly those in the higher risk categories, should talk to their doctors about appropriate screening tests.
- Skin Cancer: The most commonly diagnosed cancer is also the most treatable and preventable. Avoid excess sun exposure, use sunblock, never use sun lamps or tanning beds, don’t smoke, avoid HPV by practicing safe sex, and get annual dermatological checkups.
- Testicular Cancer: The most common cancer among men 15 to 35, testicular cancer is more common in white men than in other ethnic groups. There are some genetic factors for testicular cancer, and a family history increases the risk significantly. The two best things men can do to avoid and detect testicular cancer, from puberty onward, are practice safe sex (men with HIV have a higher risk of developing testicular cancer) and have annual physical exams in addition to performing regular self-exams.
Cancer is much more common than it has to be. While a large percentage of cancers are simply unavoidable and unpredictable, making healthy lifestyle choices; protecting yourself from sun, chemical, STD, and smoke exposure; and getting regular medical exams can all help limit your risk of developing cancer.
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