Cancer Prevention 101

In the US, 1 in 4 people will develop cancer at some point in their life.  A cancer diagnosis can be devastating for patients and their families.  Around 40% of cancer cases can be preventable by reducing our exposure tote cancer risk factors that we can control – including diet, weight and physical inactivity.

Preventing cancer before it starts is ideal, but not all cancers can be prevented.  In that case, screening for cancers to catch them early when they are more treatable and beatable is key.  The CDC supports screening for breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancers as recommended by the US Preventative Services Task Force.  Discuss these recommended screenings with your physician.

We know that prevention is the best way to fight cancer. Policymakers, public health professionals, comprehensive cancer control programs, community groups, doctors, and individuals can help prevent cancer in many ways.  Nearly half of all cancers can be prevented by individual choices.   Follow these 10 recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research:

  1. Be a healthy weight
  2. Be physically active
  3. Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans
  4. Light consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars
  5. Limit consumption of red and processed meats
  6. Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks
  7. Limit alcohol consumption
  8. Do not use supplements for cancer prevention
  9. For mothers: breastfeed your baby, if you can
  10. Do not smoke or use any tobacco products

HPV and Cancer

For some cancer types, there are recommended vaccinations that can help prevent a cancer diagnosis.  The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has been found to be associated with several kinds of cancer: cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal and oropharyngeal.  HPV vaccines are recommended for preteen girls and boys to protect against HPV infections, all kids who are 11 or 12 years old should get the vaccine. 

Tobacco and Cancer

Smoking tobacco products causes almost nine of every 10 cases of lung cancer, and also can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body.   No matter how long you have smoked, quitting can reduce your risk for cancer and other chronic disease.  Quitting smoking can be hard for many people, but there is help out there.  For more info, visit

Alcohol and Cancer

Drinking alcohol raises your risk of getting 6 kinds of cancer – mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colorectal, liver and breast.  The more you drink, the higher your cancer risk.

Assessing your Cancer Risk

All of us are at some risk for developing cancer at some point in our lives. It’s difficult to know how much risk, exactly. Some smokers never get lung cancer whereas some healthy, non-smoking individuals do develop lung cancer. Similarly, there are people with obesity who never develop any of the 12 cancer linked to this condition while some lean individuals do.

But for the vast majority of us, our cancer risk is something we can increase or decrease. And that’s what we mean, when we talk to individuals about cancer prevention. You can help protect yourself against cancer. And given that the science says, strongly and consistently, that healthy everyday choices can and do decrease cancer risk, it makes sense to make those choices.

There are no guarantees when it comes to cancer. But every time you decide to go for a run or choose a fresh salad over a fast-food burger, you’re playing the odds. And those odds are very good.

Decades of research into the science of cancer prevention show that a healthy overall lifestyle is the smartest, safest bet you can make.  Since 2015, MCF has funded 23 grants, totaling $2,070,251 towards cancer prevention programs. 

Cancer Prevention