Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States (US), but many kinds of cancer can be prevented or caught early. Leading risk factors for preventable cancers are smoking, getting too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources, being overweight or having obesity, and drinking too much alcohol. Now is a good time to start reducing your risk by making healthier choices that will lead to a longer, healthier life.
Tips for Making Healthier Choices
- Protect your skin. In the US, skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer. To lower your risk, you can protect your skin from UV rays from the sun and avoid artificial sources of UV exposure such as tanning beds and sunlamps.
- Toss tobacco. Reduce cancer risk by quitting tobacco or not starting. Smoking and secondhand smoke cause about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths in the US. Non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk for lung cancer and other respiratory problems. Strive to break the addiction and visit smokefree.gov to learn how you can quit smoking.
- Keep a healthy weight. Being overweight or having obesity are linked with a higher risk of getting 13 types of cancer. These cancers make up 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the US each year.
- Improve eating habits. Most people cannot overhaul their food habits quickly. Add a few servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Try mixing dark, leafy greens like spinach in a salad and eat a piece of fruit for a snack. On a regular basis, make your diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains. Choose lean cuts of meat and eat smaller portions.
- Be active. Make physical activity a regular part of your daily or weekly schedule and write it on an activity calendar. Keep track of your progress with an exercise chart or on-line tool. Organize school activities around physical activity, walk the dog, or exercise while you watch TV. Ask friends and family to exercise with you and plan social activities involving exercise.
- Drink less or not at all. The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for cancer. Drinking alcohol raises your risk of getting the following types of cancer: mouth and throat, voice box (larynx), esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast cancer (in women). All alcoholic drinks, including red and white wine, beer, and liquor, are linked with cancer. The more you drink, the higher your cancer risk.
- Get screened. You have the power to take control of your health and catch many cancers before they start, or at their earliest, most treatable stages. Be familiar with warning signs and symptoms, get regular check-ups and perform self-exams. Check out the Cancer Screening Guidelines by Age from the American Cancer Society.
American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer, American Cancer Society
An Update on Cancer Deaths in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Cancer Causes and Prevention: Diet, National Cancer Institute
Cancer Risk, Prevention, and Screening, American Cancer Society
Healthy Choices, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
How to Prevent Cancer or Find It Early, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Obesity and Cancer, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Skin Cancer?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This article has been peer-viewed. It was reviewed and updated in 2023.