Every day, we seem to hear about a new study to prevent or reduce our risk of getting cancer. These studies can get confusing. It is important to remember that no one study has all the answers.
There is no remedy that can prevent all cancers. But, there are simple things you can do that will help to lower your likellihood of getting cancer by modifying risk factors. A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.
Cancer develops when genes that control the growth of cells in your body get damaged. This damage can happen when:
You inherit a damaged gene from one or both of your parents.
Your genes get damaged from something that happens in your life (e.g., exposure to toxic chemicals).
General Cancer Prevention Guidelines
We can’t control what we inherit from our parents, but we can control our health behaviors. The following are guidelines from the American Cancer Society on how to reduce your risk of developing cancer. Doing these things can also improve your health in other ways, including decreasing your risk of getting cardiovascular (heart) disease and diabetes.
A. Maintain a healthy weight.
Balance the calories you eat with how much physical activity you get.
Don’t gain too much weight throughout your life.
Get — and keep — a healthy weight if you are overweight.
B. Be physically active.
Adults: Get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 5 days a week; 45 to 60 minutes of planned physical activity is best.
Children and adolescents: Get at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 5 days a week.
C. Eat a healthy diet with a focus on fruits and vegetables.
Eat foods and drinks in amounts that help you get and keep a healthy weight.
Eat 5 or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits every day.
Eat whole grains rather than processed (refined) grains.
Limit how much processed and red meat you eat.
D. If you drink alcohol, limit how much you drink.
Have no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men.
E. Don’t use tobacco products.
Smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body and is linked to at least 15 different cancers. Smoking is responsible for 30 percent of all cancer deaths.
Will eating less fat lower my risk of getting cancer?
There is little evidence that the amount of fat a person eats affects cancer risk.
But, diets high in fat are usually high in calories and may cause obesity. Obesity increases your risk of getting several types of cancer.
Some studies have shown that certain types of fats, such as saturated fats, may increase your cancer risk.
Other studies have shown that other types of fat can reduce your cancer risk. These are called the good fats and include:
Omega-3 fatty acids (mainly in fish);
Monounsaturated fatty acids (in olive and canola oils); and
Will eating a variety of fruits and vegetables lower my risk of getting cancer?
Yes. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables can lower your risk of getting lung, esophageal (throat), stomach, and colorectal cancer. Fruits and vegetables have many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other healthy substances.
Is there a difference in nutrients between fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables and fruits?
Yes. But, they can all be good choices.
Many people think that fresh foods have more nutrients. But, frozen foods can often be more nutritious than fresh foods because they are usually picked ripe and quickly frozen. Fresh foods may lose some of their nutrients in the time between picking them and eating them.
Canning may reduce the nutrients that are sensitive to the high heat and water that must be used. Be aware that some canned fruits are packed in heavy syrup, and some canned vegetables are high in sodium (salt). Carefully read the label information.
Does cooking vegetables affect their nutrients?
Yes. When you boil vegetables, especially for long periods of time, the B and C vitamins (water-soluble) can leak out.
Microwaving and steaming are the best ways to keep these nutrients in vegetables.
Do the vitamins in fruits and vegetables lower cancer risk?
Yes. Research shows that getting vitamins from eating vegetables, fruits, and enriched grain products can lower your cancer risk.
Taking high doses of vitamins and minerals in pill form does not have the same benefit. It may even cause harm.
Vitamin or Mineral
What You Can Eat or What You Can Do to Get These Vitamins or Minerals
Helps grow and repair body tissue
Found in animal food sources
Made from the beta-carotene in plant foods
Alcohol, coffee, or too much iron can drain your body of Vitamin A.
Vitamin A pills (beta-carotene or retinol) have not been shown to lower your cancer risk.
High doses of Vitamin A may increase your risk for lung cancer if you smoke or have smoked in the past.
Protects your cells from damage
Helps you better absorb iron
Many studies have shown that eating foods rich in vitamin C can reduce your risk for cancer.
No research shows that Vitamin C pills have decreased the risk for getting cancer.
Keeps bones and teeth strong and healthy
Controls cell growth and activity
May have helpful effects on some types of cancer, including cancers of the colon, prostate, and breast
More research is needed to determine how much Vitamin D you need to reduce your cancer risk.
Spend time outside in the sun
Vitamin D-fortified milk and yogurt
Vitamin D-fortified cereals and juices
Protects your skin from ultraviolet light
Protects your cells from damage
Allows cells to talk to one another
Studies have not proven that taking Vitamin E will prevent cancer.
Keeps your bones healthy and strong
Helps your nerves and muscles work properly
Several studies have shown that foods high in calcium might help reduce your risk for colorectal cancer.
Taking calcium supplements slightly decreases your risk of getting growths in your colon (polyps).
But, studies also show that getting too much calcium (mainly from calcium pills) can increase your risk for prostate cancer, especially for prostate cancers that are more aggressive.
Dairy products (People who get most of their calcium from dairy products should use low-fat or non-fat dairy to reduce the amount of saturated fat they eat.)
Leafy green vegetables
Folic acid (folate B vitamin)
Not enough folate may increase your risk of getting colon, rectum or breast cancer, especially if you drink alcoholic beverages.
Does eating whole grains decrease my risk of getting cancer?
Yes. Grains such as wheat, rice, oats, and barley, and foods made from them, are an important part of a healthy diet. Foods made with all of the grain seed are called whole grains.
Whole grains are higher in fiber and certain vitamins and minerals than processed (refined) flour products. Some of these vitamins and minerals have been associated with a lower risk of cancer.
What is dietary fiber, and can it prevent cancer?
Dietary fiber comes from the part of plant foods that humans cannot digest. Some fiber is called "soluble" (like oat bran) or "insoluble" (like wheat bran and cellulose). Soluble fiber helps to reduce your blood cholesterol, which lowers your risk of heart disease.
The link between fiber and cancer risk is weak, but eating foods high in fiber (beans, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits) is still recommended. These foods have other nutrients that may help reduce your cancer risk and have other health benefits.
Do processed foods or red meat cause cancer?
Some studies have shown that eating large amounts of processed meats can increase your risk of getting colorectal and stomach cancers. The reason for this may be the nitrites that are added to many luncheon meats, hams, and hot dogs.
Processed meats and meats that have been smoked or salted can have possible cancer-causing chemicals. Limit the amount you eat.
How does cooking meat affect cancer risk?
Proper cooking is necessary to kill harmful bacteria in meat.
Some research suggests that frying, broiling, or grilling meats at very high
temperatures creates chemicals that might increase your risk of getting cancer.
Braising, steaming, poaching, stewing, and microwaving
meats produces less of these chemicals.
Do certain foods or chemicals added to foods increase or decrease cancer?
Bioengineered foods are made by adding genes from other plants or organisms to make a plant more resistant to pests and slow spoilage.
Some genes improve flavor, add nutrients to the food, or make the food easier to ship.
No research has shown that the substances found in bioengineered foods are harmful or that they would increase or decrease your cancer risk.
Radiation is used to kill harmful organisms on foods to make them last longer on the grocery store shelf.
Radiation does not stay in foods. Eating irradiated foods does not appear to increase cancer risk.
The term "organic" is used to describe plant foods grown without pesticides and genetic changes.
There is no research showing that organic foods decrease your cancer risk more than similar foods grown non-organically.
Foods made from soybeans are excellent sources of protein and a good alternative to meat.
Soy contains several phytochemicals that appear to protect against hormone-dependent cancers.
There is little research showing that soy supplements can help reduce your risk of getting cancer.
High doses of soy might increase your risk of getting breast or endometrial cancer (estrogen-responsive cancers). Women with breast cancer should eat only moderate amounts of soy foods. They should not take pills or powders that have high levels of soy isoflavones.
A vegetarian diet has not been proven to prevent cancer.
Vegetarian diets can be healthy. They tend to be low in saturated fats and high in fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals.
Eating small amounts of lean meats can also be healthful.
If you eat a strict vegetarian diet (no animal products, including milk and eggs), you should take vitamin B12, zinc, and iron pills. (This is especially true for children and women after menopause.)
Foods have many things added to them to improve their color, flavor, and texture.
All additives must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they can be sold. Careful testing in animals to look for any effects on cancer is done as part of this process.
Most foods have small amounts of additives. There is no evidence that additives at these levels can cause cancer in humans.
Pesticides and herbicides
Pesticides and herbicides can be toxic.
Even though vegetables and fruits can have low levels of these chemicals, research shows great health benefits in eating vegetables and fruits.
There is no research showing that the small amounts of pesticides/ herbicides found in foods will increase your risk of getting cancer. But, wash fruits and vegetables well before you eat them.
Drinking alcohol raises your risk of getting cancer of the mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), esophagus, liver, breast, and probably of the colon and rectum.
If you drink alcohol and use tobacco, you increase your risk of getting some cancers above the level either habit may cause alone.
Women should drink no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day. Men should drink no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day.
A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled alcohol.
Part of a healthy lifestyle is also protecting your skin. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. Read about skin cancer facts and how to protect yourself from ultraviolet (UV) rays: