Over 14 million people worldwide were diagnosed with cancer this past year, according to the World Health Organization. And the numbers are expected to increase by 70% over the next 20 years. [1] With cancer continuing to affect the lives of so many people, it’s important to understand what steps we can take to prevent or reduce cancer risk.

Quick stats:

  • Research has shown that at least 1/3 of all cancer cases are preventable. [2]
  • Last year, over 1.6 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer – that means more than 500,000 cases could have been avoided. [3]
  • Scientists are actively studying different ways to help prevent cancer, including changes in diet and lifestyle, chemoprevention (medicines that treat precancerous conditions or keep cancer from starting) and much more. Read about related work by NFCR-funded scientists Dr. Helmut Sies and Dr. Michael Sporn.

1. Stop smoking

no more smokingA single cigarette contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, including 70 cancer-causing chemicals. [4]  Research has linked smoking with 14 different types of cancer including lung, colon, pancreatic, liver, esophageal, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, stomach, cervical and rectal caners, as well as acute myeloid leukemia.

Quitting reduces your risk even if you’ve smoked for years. Talk to your doctor about strategies or free support systems that can help you quit. Also, avoid second-hand smoke whenever possible – it can be just as damaging as personally smoking.

2. Maintain a healthy weight

People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of many serious health conditions, including cancers.

To control weight gain, eat more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life can lower your risk of breast, uterine, prostate, lung, colon, kidney, pancreatic, esophageal, gallbladder and thyroid cancers. [5]

 3. Know your family history

family history formApproximately 5 to 10% of all cancers are considered hereditary, which means you may be at greater risk for some cancers if you have a personal or family history of cancer or certain diseases. [6] Genetic counseling and testing may be recommended for people with a strong family history of cancer. Click here for more information on genetic testing.

4. Practice safe sunning

safe sunningSkin cancer rates are on the rise and sunscreen has been proven to reduce the risk of skin cancer. While people with fair skin may be more likely to develop skin cancer due to sun exposure, people with darker skin tones are at risk as well. Sunscreen protects against sunburn as well as harmful ultraviolet rays that can wreak havoc on your skin on cloudy, overcast or winter days when there is no sunshine. It’s good to use sunscreen every day – even during the winter months.

Also avoid indoor tanning salons. Research has shown that exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Even one indoor tanning session can increase users’ risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 67% and basal cell carcinoma by 29%. [7]

 5. Limit your alcohol intake

Although moderate alcohol use has possible health benefits, it’s also not risk-free. Excessive alcohol use can cause liver damage, heart problems and increases your risk of breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx and liver cancers. [8]

To reduce your lifetime risk of cancer: On average, men should not consume more than two drinks per day and women should not consume more than three drinks per week.

 6. Limit red and processed meats

Research shows that people who eat more red meat (beef, pork and lamb) and processed meats (like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and salami) have a higher risk of developing colorectal and prostate cancers. [9] Although there is not scientific consensus, the observed increased risk may be explained by high iron and fat content in red meat and/or the salt and nitrates in processed meat.

Need some red meat alternatives? Try some of our favorite cancer-fighting recipes tonight like Rainbow Salsa (with grilled fish or chicken) and Pumpkin Soup (with a Garlic, Kale and Sesame Topping).

7. Get moving every day

get moving every dayStudies conclusively show that exercise helps relieve stress, weight gain and reduces cancer- related risks. It can even help cancer survivors live longer! So get out there and dance, run, bike or walk. Exercising at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes every day has many benefits.

8. Schedule your screenings

Regular cancer screenings help with early detection and prevention. Screening tests include mammograms for breast cancer, colonoscopies for colorectal cancer, pap smears for cervical and uterine cancer, body checks for skin cancer and more. Talk to your doctor to see what screenings are appropriate for you given your family history, age and lifestyle choices. For more information on cancer screenings, please refer to our Cancer Detection Guidelines.


Preventative Cancer Research

The best way to reduce the number of patients dying from cancer is to prevent the disease from developing in the first place. That’s why NFCR-sponsored researchers have been investigating links between nutrition and cancer as well as drug development to prevent cancer for decades. 

dr siesScientist Dr. Helmut Sies¸ whose work was funded by NFCR, discovered the antioxidant lycopene, a micronutrient found in tomatoes and other foods. Lycopene has strong skin cancer prevention effects. Today, his research is focused on selenium, a trace metal found in certain foods that is essential for good health. There is evidence that selenium improves human health and helps prevent cancer – specifically colon cancer – and Dr. Sies has been researching the molecular basis for this.

*Prevention tip: Read how to add selenium to your diet

dr spornDr. Michael Sporn, whose work was supported by NFCR, is known as the “Father of Chemoprevention” because his research led to the development of several synthetic triterpenoid compounds, which are a new class of chemical agents with potent preventative effects against several types of cancer, including breast, lung and pancreatic cancers. For individuals with a family history or are otherwise at high risk of developing these diseases, the promising results of Dr. Sporn’s research offers hope that their chances of developing cancer may be dramatically reduced by the use of chemoprevention.