Preventive Cancer Care and Screenings
Prevention — what you can do to lower your risk
Cancer prevention includes taking actions that will help lower your risk of getting cancer, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing substances, and taking medications or vaccines that can help prevent cancer from developing. Cancer is not a single disease, but a group of related diseases. Many things in our genes, our lifestyle, and the environment around us may increase or decrease our risk of getting cancer. As doctors and scientists continue to research different treatments and possible cures for cancer, there are many different ways to help prevent cancer, including the following:
- Changes in diet and lifestyle: Exercising regularly and consuming a diet full of whole foods including fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and drinking plenty of water.
- Avoiding common risk factors: This includes avoiding excess sun exposure, drinking excess alcohol, smoking, being overweight or obese, etc.
- Getting recommended screenings: Women age 50 and over should get a mammography screening, and women and men age 50 and over should get a colonoscopy screening. Men should also speak with their doctor to see if prostate screening is right for them.
- Detecting precancerous conditions early: If you think you have detected something that could be cancerous, don't hesitate to contact your doctor.
- Getting the appropriate vaccines: The HPV vaccine helps prevent against HPV-related cancer and diseases, for example. The Hepatitis B vaccine can help lower liver cancer risk.
Common cancer screenings
It's important to follow the recommendations for cancer screening tests. Screenings are used to help identify cancer or possible signs of cancer, even if you do not have any symptoms. Screenings give you the best chance at detecting and treating cancer as early as possible — before it develops further.
Early detection is the best defense against breast cancer. It is important for women to follow the recommended screening guidelines for monthly self-exams, clinic visits, and mammograms. Women who are 50 to 74 years of age and are at average risk for breast cancer should have a mammogram every year. Women ages 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor about when to start, and how often to get a mammogram.
The Pap test can detect abnormal cells in a woman's cervix, which may be cancerous. Pap tests can also find cervical cancer early, when the chance of being cured is highest.
Colorectal (colon) cancer
Colon cancer develops from precancerous growths in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous growths so they can be removed before they become cancerous. The American Cancer Society recommends men and women have a colon cancer screening at age 50, for those at average risk. There are several screening options available including a fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT), FIT-DNA test, sigmoidoscopy, CT colonography, or colonoscopy.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends a yearly lung cancer screening for those who have a history of heavy smoking and currently smoke, or have quit within the past 15 years, and are between ages 55 and 80 years old.
For men aged 55 to 69, the decision to have a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) screening for prostate cancer should be an individual one, based on the potential harms and benefits of screening along with personal values and preferences. Speak with your doctor before deciding if a PSA screening is right for you. The USPSTF recommends against PSA-based screening for prostate cancer in men age 70 years and older.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most cases of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Protection from UV radiation is important all year round, not just during the summer or when you're at the beach. UV rays can reach you even on a cloudy day. While there is no routine skin cancer screening, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following protective measures:
- Avoiding the use of indoor tanning salons
- Staying in the shade, especially during the midday hours
- Applying sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher every day, not just in the summer
- Wearing clothing that covers the arms and legs
- Wearing a hat with a brim to provide shade to your face, ears, and neck
- Wearing sunglasses
Community wellness programs and support groups
If you or a loved one is battling cancer, support is available. Click below to find out about the services available to you.