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Prevention and Early Detection

Many cancer risk factors and causes have been identified. The following information can help you prevent cancer or detect it early for the most effective treatment.


Don't Smoke
Cigarette smoking is the major cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. On the average, people who smoke die five to eight years earlier than people who don't smoke. Nearly all cases of lung cancer occur in tobacco users and people who live with smokers. Their risk of developing throat, mouth, esophageal, pancreatic, kidney, bladder, and cervical cancer is several times greater than for people who are not regularly exposed to tobacco smoke. To find information and counselors that can help you kick the smoking habit, please visit the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute.

Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet can reduce your risk for many types of cancer. In general, avoid obesity and eat a variety of foods every day, including fiber, and plenty of fruits and vegetables (especially those with vitamins A and C). Water is also very important — drink 10 to 12 cups a day. Minimize your intake of cholesterol, fat, saturated fat, and smoked or cured foods. Alcoholic beverages, if consumed at all, should be consumed in moderation. Visit the our healthy recipes page for more information.

Following are some prevention tips for specific types of cancer.



Breast Cancer Minimize eating high-fat foods, exercise regularly, and do not smoke.

Bladder Cancer Do not smoke. Smokers are more than twice as likely to get bladder cancer as nonsmokers. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids. In a recent study, people who drank at least 11 cups of fluids a day were half as likely to develop bladder cancer than people who drank fewer than 6 cups per day.

Colorectal Cancer Minimize eating high-fat foods such as those from animal sources; eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day and several servings of breads, cereals, grain products, rice, pasta, or beans. Exercise regularly, and do not smoke. Studies show that smokers are 30% to 40% more likely than nonsmokers to die of colorectal cancer. Smoking may be responsible for causing about 12% of fatal colorectal cancers.

Lung Cancer Do not smoke or spend time around people who do. Find out about cancer-causing chemicals you may be exposed to at work (such as asbestos, radon and even fuels) and take appropriate protective measures. If you live in an area where natural uranium deposits in the soil release radon gas, consider testing radon levels in your home.

Prostate Cancer Eat a diet low in fat and high in vegetables, fruits, and grains. Include five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Tomatoes (raw, cooked, or in tomato products such as sauces or ketchup), grapefruit, and watermelon are antioxidants that may help lower prostate cancer risk. Some studies suggest that taking 50 milligrams of vitamin E daily can lower your risk; consult with your physician. Vitamin A supplements may actually increase prostate cancer risk.


Early Detection

Regular screenings are essential to detect cancer in its earliest stage; this gives you your best chance for survival. The American Cancer Society recommendations the following screening schedules.

General Guidelines

A cancer-related checkup is recommended every 3 years for people aged 20-40 and every year for people age 40 and older. This exam should include health counseling and depending on a person's age might include examinations for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes, and ovaries as well as for some non-malignant diseases. For more information, and recommendations for specific cancer screenings, visit the American Cancer Society's Early Detection  page.

Cancer-Specific Guidelines

Annual Pap Test
The American Cancer Society recommends all women begin yearly Pap tests (also called Pap smears) and pelvic examinations at age 18 or sooner if they are sexually active before age 18. Click here for additional information.

Monthly Breast Cancer Self Exam
Women aged 20 and up should examine their own breasts every month. Do this about a week after your period ends, when your breasts are not tender or swollen. (If you are not having regular periods, do the exam on the same day every month.)

  • Lie down with a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right arm behind your head.
  • Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast.
  • Press firmly enough to know how your breast feels.
  • Move around the breast in a circular, up and down line, or wedge pattern. Be sure to do it the same way every time, check the entire breast area, and remember how your breast feels from month to month.
  • Repeat the exam on your left breast, using the finger pads of the right hand. (Move the pillow to under your left shoulder.)
  • If you find any changes, see your doctor right away.
  • Repeat the examination of both breasts while standing, with your one arm behind your head. The upright position makes it easier to check the upper and outer part of the breasts (toward your armpit). This is where about half of breast cancers are found. You may want to do the standing part of the exam while you are in the shower, as some changes can be felt more easily when your skin is wet and soapy. Also check in the mirror for any dimpling of the skin, changes in the nipple, redness, or swelling. Visit our Breast Cancer Center  for more information on breast self-exams.

Annual Mammogram
Women aged 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year.

Annual Prostate Check
For men, prostate cancer can be found early by testing the amount of prostate- specific antigen (PSA) in your blood — and when the doctor performs a rectal examination. Since the use of early detection tests for prostate cancer became common (about 1990), the prostate cancer death rate has dropped. But it has not been proven that this is a direct result of screening. Therefore, whether or not you will have the test is something for you and your doctor to decide. The American Cancer Society recommends that health care providers offer the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal examination (DRE) yearly, once you become 50, if you have at least a 10-year life expectancy. If you are African American or have a family history of prostate cancer, then you should begin testing at age 45. Your doctor should openly discuss with you the benefits and risks of testing at yearly check ups.

Skin Cancer Exam Every One to Three Years — Plus Check Yourself Each Month
The American Cancer Society recommends a cancer-related checkup, including a skin examination, every 3 years for people between 20 and 40 years of age, and every year for anyone age 40 and older. Check your own skin once a month in front of a full-length mirror, including your palms and soles, lower back, and the back of the legs. A hand-held mirror can be used for areas that are hard to see. A spouse or other partner can also help with hard-to-see areas. Spots that are changing in size, shape, or color should be evaluated promptly. Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking, or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer or a warning that it might occur. The skin might become scaly or crusty or begin oozing or bleeding. It may feel itchy, tender, or painful. Use the ABCD rule to help distinguish a normal mole from a melanoma:

  1. One half of the mole does not match the other half.
  2. The edges of the mole are ragged or notched.
  3. The color over the mole is not the same. There may be differing shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes patches of red, blue, or white.
  4. The mole is wider than 6 millimeters (about 1/4 inch) although in recent years doctors are finding more melanomas between 3 and 6 millimeters.



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