Merck Manual

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Prevention of Cancer

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2019| Content last modified Sep 2019
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What can I do to prevent cancer?

There's no way to be sure you'll never get cancer. However, some things can lower the risk of certain cancers:

  • Don't smoke and avoid being around smoke: Lung, kidney, bladder, head, neck, mouth, and tongue cancer

  • Don't use smokeless tobacco (snuff or chew): Head, neck, mouth, and tongue cancer

  • Don't drink too much alcohol: Head, neck, liver, and esophageal (the tube that connects your throat to your stomach) cancer

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight and use sunscreen: Skin cancer

  • Be careful at work so you don't come in contact with chemicals that can cause cancer: Various cancers

Get vaccines that can prevent types of cancer that are caused by viruses:

Not everyone needs the vaccines, so talk to your doctor about whether you do.

Screening tests to find cancer early aren't really prevention. However, cancer treatment works best when started early. Talk to your doctor about whether you should have screening tests such as the following:

  • A mammogram (x-ray of your breast) to find breast cancer: Women over age 40 or 50

  • A Pap test to find cervical cancer: Most women between age 21 and 65

  • Colonoscopy or other tests to find colon cancer: Most people starting at age 45-50

Other tests may be appropriate if you have increased risk of certain cancers (for example, a cancer that runs in your family).

What other actions may help prevent cancer?

Doctors don't know for sure whether diet and physical activity will keep you from getting cancer, but they may help. In any case, these things are good for you to do:

  • Eat a diet of low-fat foods, such as lean meats and low-fat dairy products

  • Limit how much processed meat, such as deli meat, you eat

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables

  • Eat lots of whole-grain foods, such as brown rice

  • Get physical activity

  • Keep your weight at a healthy level

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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