What is Cancer Prevention?

Cancer awareness shoot
  • Cancer prevention refers to any action that an individual takes to lower their chances of getting cancer. Beyond the physical problems and emotional distress that cancer causes patients, the high costs of care associated with cancer are also a burden to patients, their families and the public. 

By preventing cancer and thus lowering the number of new cases of cancer per year, we may reduce both the overall burden of cancer and the number of deaths due to cancer. 

Cancer prevention can take multiple forms, and fortunately, researchers have been able to make progress in our general understanding of cancer and its different symptoms.

The American Cancer Society developed the following list of symptoms that everyone should be aware of, keeping in mind that this is merely a rough guide and that there are still a majority of symptoms that do not show up on this list below. Instead, think of this list as a set of signs to look out for and to report to your doctor.  

  • C: Change in bowel or bladder habits
  • A: A sore throat that does not heal
  • U: unusual bleeding or discharge
  • T: thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere
  • I: indigestion or difficulty in swallowing 
  • O: obvious change in a wart or mole
  • N: nagging cough or hoarseness 

Beyond this list of potential symptoms, one of the first active things that you can do to protect yourself from cancer starting now is to get screened. This is because screening tests can help you detect cancers in their earliest stages and before you even show any signs or symptoms. 

Screening tests are especially useful for finding breast, cervical and colorectal cancers. Below is a list of screening tests recommended by the USPSTF: 

  • Mammograms; these are the best way of finding breast cancer early 
  • Pap tests: these are typically recommended for women starting at 21 years of age and are used to find abnormal cells in the cervix that may turn into cervical cancer. 
  • HPV tests: because HPV is one of the risk factors for cervical cancer, getting a HPV test done can be one way of protecting oneself from developing this type of cancer. Watch the following video on why the HPV vaccine is important: HPV Vaccine: A Pediatrician’s Recommendation 
  • Colonoscopy: since colorectal cancers almost always develop from precancerous polyps (aka abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum, a colonoscopy is one screening test that can be done to find these growths so that they may be removed before they turn into cancer. 
  • Low-dose computer tomography (LDCT): this screening test is recommended for individuals who have a history of heavy smoking and smoke now or quit smoking within the past 15 years. This screening test is used to detect lung cancer and is recommended for individuals between 55-80 years old. 
    • Screenings also exist for ovarian, pancreatic, prostate and testicular cancers; however, research hasn’t found much evidence to suggest that screenings for these cancers help to reduce the number of deaths that are caused by them. 

 

For recommendations on best screening practices by age, the American Cancer Society has created the following guide Cancer Screening Guidelines by age

For more detailed explanations on the different types of screening tests that exist, visit the following website: Effective Cancer Screening Tests

If you’re ready to get screened, you may visit the Health Testing Centers website. Here, you will find a list of places within the Chicagoland area that you may visit for a cancer screening. 


Ultimately, beyond keeping track of potential symptoms or getting screened, the best kind of cancer prevention is to protect yourself starting right now by reducing your risk of developing cancer in the first place. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health believe that ~75% of cancer deaths in the U.S are preventable. 

  • Below is a list of the following things that all individuals should do to reduce their risk of getting cancer: 
    • Avoid tobacco in all its forms including reducing your exposure to secondhand smoking
    • Eat properly; reduce the amount of saturated fats and red meat that you eat (I.e., fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, lard and cream, butter, cheese and other dairy products) 
    • Exercise regularly. Even just 7 minutes of yoga or any other form of physical activity is enough. 
    • Limit yourself to one drink a day if you choose to drink alcohol. 
    • Avoid exposure to environmental and industrial toxins (ex: asbestos fibers). If you live or work in areas that are at high risk for air pollution consider wearing a mask. 
    • Get quality sleep. Not sleeping enough is associated with weight gain, which is a risk factor for cancer. So, getting quality sleep helps to reduce your risk for developing cancer. 
    • Get enough vitamin D (in the form of a dietary supplement). Research evidence suggests that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of prostate and colorectal cancers.