How To Prevent Cancer – 3 Ways Of Protection In 2020

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Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

how to prevent cancer

Cancer is a term that refers to certain types of diseases in which abnormal cells divide and may invade other tissues without regulation. Cancer cells can spread to other body parts through the lymph systems and through the blood. It’s worth mentioning that cancer is not merely a single disease, but more than a hundred types of cancer[1]. How to prevent and cure cancer is still a serious problem that professionals haven’t been able to solve.

About one in every three Americans will develop some form of malignancy during their lifespan. Doctors have made dramatic strides in discovering the biology of cancer cells. Considering the bleak figures, they are still able to improve cancer detection and treatment.

Fortunately,  about  30-50 percent of all cases of cancer are avoidable. Cancer prevention provides the most cost-effective long-term cancer-fighting approach. The World Health Organization[2] (WHO) works with the Member States to improve national awareness-raising strategies and programs and minimize exposure to many types of cancer risk factors. They want to ensure that knowledge and support are given to people in order to follow healthy lifestyles. 

The WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control[3] of NCDs 2013-2020 offers a roadmap to minimize premature mortality from NCDs by 2025 by targeting risk factors, in order to improve national efforts to address the burden of cancer and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Therefore, it’s critical to have an early diagnosis of cancer, so measures can be done at the onset to somewhat decrease the chance of advanced stages, severity, and worse, mortality.

Risk Factors of Cancer

It is undeniable that the risk of cancer can vary from children to adults for many reasons. As stated, research[4] has indicated that repeated exposures or risk factors have been associated with some cancers, especially in adults. Anything that can increase the chance of a person contracting a disease is a risk factor. The disease is not inherently caused by a risk factor, but it may make the body more susceptible to it. Below are the common reasons that can increase your risk of cancer:

Certain genetic abnormalities

Wiskott-Aldrich and Beckwith-Wiedemann[5] syndrome, for instance, are known to change the immune system. The immune system is a complicated system that acts to protect our bodies from disease and infection. Cells that later mature and act as part of the immune system are formed by the bone marrow. One hypothesis[6] suggests that the stem cells in the bone marrow become damaged or defective, thus creating dysfunctional cells or cancer cells as they replicate to create more cells. An inherited genetic disorder or exposure to a virus or toxin might be associated with the damaged stem cells.

Exposures to certain viruses

An increased risk of childhood cancer, such as Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has been connected to the Epstein-Barr virus[7] and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Possibly, the virus in some way changes a cell. The cell then reproduces an altered cell, and these modifications gradually form rapidly dividing cancer cells.

Environmental exposures

A clear correlation to childhood cancers has been studied in pesticides, fertilizers, and power lines. Cancer has been shown to occur in some communities and/or cities among non-related children. It is unclear if prenatal or infant exposure to these agents, or a coincidence, causes cancer.

Family history, inheritance, and genetics

It is possible to detect genetic cancer of different types of family members. These types of cancer can occur because of the following reasons: genetic mutation, exposure to chemicals near the family residence, or a mixture of these causes, or simply a coincidence.

High-dose radiation and chemotherapy

In certain cases according to NCBI[8], a second malignancy may develop later in life in children who have been exposed to these agents. Cells and/or the immune system may be altered by these potent anticancer agents. A secondary malignancy is a cancer that arises as a result of treatment for particular cancer.

Lifestyle factors

Examples of lifestyle choices that could be risk factors for some adult cancers are smoking, a high-fat diet, obesity, and exposure to toxic chemicals. However, most children with cancer are not affected by lifestyle factors.

Early Cancer Diagnosis

The odds of successful treatment are significantly improved by early cancer detection. Early detection of cancer has two main components: education to encourage early diagnosis and screening. 

Early diagnosis[9] comes from identifying potential warning signs of cancer and taking timely action. Increased awareness of potential warning signs of cancer among health care professionals, as well as in the public, may have a significant impact on reducing your risk. Lumps, sores that fail to heal, abnormal bleeding, sustained indigestion, and chronic hoarseness are some early symptoms of cancer. For cancers of the breast, cervix, throat, larynx, colon, and rectum, and skin, early diagnosis is crucial.


Screening[9] refers to the use of simple measures to classify people who are exposed to general cancer risk like air pollution, tobacco use, etc.  but do not yet have symptoms. Examples include breast cancer screening with mammography[10] and cervical cancer screening with cytology screening, known as a pap smear.

Screening activities can be carried out only when their diagnostic efficacy has been confirmed and when services are available to reach nearly all of the target population, and the incidence of the disease is sufficiently high to warrant the screening effort and costs.

Mass population screening can only be advocated for breast, colon, and cervical cancer, by using mammography, colonoscopy, and cytology screening in countries where there are available resources for broad population coverage. Several ongoing studies are currently investigating low-cost screening methods that can be applied in low-resource settings. Visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid, for example, may prove to be a successful form of screening for cervical cancer in the near future. More studies are under examination to test low-cost alternatives to mammography screening procedures, such as clinical breast test.

How to prevent cancer?

Recent statistics[11] reveal that around 1.8 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020. Research indicates that with awareness, about  50% of cancer cases and 50% of cancer mortality are avoidable. Cancer might result in awful pains that require a painkiller. Cancer prevention and early detection are more relevant than ever, and successful methods have also been proven to reduce the cost of health care.

Often, what’s learned is still evolving about cancer prevention. However, it is a common belief that a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk. So if cancer prevention is your concern, make basic lifestyle modifications. Take a glance at these tips for cancer prevention.

Cancer-fighting Medical Therapy

Many clinicians are unaware of the possible cancer-preventive properties of drugs in popular use, despite promising findings in large-scale chemoprevention trials. In selected high-risk individuals, anti-estrogen[12] tamoxifen and selective cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitor celecoxib have been approved in the USA for chemoprevention of breast and colorectal cancers, respectively.

Similarly, in large-scale intervention studies, folate and retinol can minimize the incidence of colorectal cancer and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. In addition, other retinoids have been found effective in tertiary chemoprevention of breast and head/neck cancers. There is also epidemiological evidence[13] that aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and inhibitors of angiotensin-converting enzymes can prevent certain cancers, such as prostate cancer, lung cancer, or liver cancer. With these agents, phytochemicals can represent less toxic alternatives.

Although some of these drugs are available without a prescription, most of them are without approval.

Having an Anti-Cancer Diet

Although a change to healthy eating habits may not prevent cancer, it may reduce your risk of developing cancer. Consider the following recommendations:

Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits

Base your diet, such as whole grains and beans, on fruits, vegetables, and other foods from plant sources. 

Avoid becoming overweight

When choosing fewer high-calorie foods, including refined sugars and fat from animal sources, eat lighter and leaner. Maintaining your body weight is crucial.

Drink alcohol in moderation (if you choose to drink)

The risk of different forms of cancer, including breast, colon lung, kidney, and liver cancer, increases with the amount of alcohol taken and how regular you drink.

Limit processed meats

Eating vast amounts of processed meat can potentially increase the risk of many types of cancer. Although there is no evidence that red meat increases the risk of cancer, lowering the amount you eat can help prevent cancer. 

In addition, there could be a decreased risk of breast cancer for women who follow a Mediterranean diet[14] supplemented with extra virgin olive oil and mixed nuts. The Mediterranean diet focuses on foods such as plants like fruits and vegetables, brussels sprouts, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Instead of red meat, people who adopt this diet prefer healthy fats such as olive oil over butter and fish.

how to prevent cancer

Lifestyle Modification

Part of your lifestyle change should be about your daily activity. Maintaining a healthy weight may minimize the risk of cancer types, including breast, prostate, lung, colon, and kidney cancer.

First of all, avoiding tobacco products. They are now the first reason why people get cancer so quickly.

Second, physical exercise is a must in preventing cancer. It may help minimize the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer, in addition to helping you regulate your weight. Any health benefits are obtained from adults who engage in some amount of physical activity. 

For major health benefits, aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of intense aerobic activity per week. You may also do a blend of moderate and intense exercise. As a general target, incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your everyday routine — and if you can do more, even better.


Speak about cancer screening with your healthcare provider. Some tests may help diagnose cancer early when treatment is likely to be effective. Some of them may also diagnose precancerous conditions before they become cancer. While screening has been shown to save lives, screening recommendations are not always “one size fits all.”

+ 15 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. National Cancer Institute. 2015. What is cancer?. Available from:
  2. WHO | The Asturias Pledge – A new call to action on environmental and occupational cancer prevention. (2014). Available from:
  3. (2013). Item. Available from:
  4. Katzke, V.A., Kaaks, R. and Kühn, T. (2015). Lifestyle and Cancer Risk. The Cancer Journal, 21(2), pp.104–110. Available from:
  5. (2017). Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD) – an NCATS Program. Available from:
  6. Hawsawi, Y.M., Al-Zahrani, F., Mavromatis, C. (Harris), Baghdadi, M.A., Saggu, S. and Oyouni, A.A.A. (2018). Stem Cell Applications for Treatment of Cancer and Autoimmune Diseases: Its Promises, Obstacles, and Future Perspectives. Technology in Cancer Research & Treatment. Available from:
  7. Anon, (2020). Epstein-barr. Available from:
  8. Nayan, N., Bhattacharyya, M., Jagtap, V., Kalita, A., Sunku, R. and Roy, P. (2018). Standard-dose versus high-dose radiotherapy with concurrent chemotherapy in esophageal cancer: A prospective randomized study. South Asian Journal of Cancer, 7(1), p.27. Available from:
  9. Wardle, J., Robb, K., Vernon, S. and Waller, J. (2015). Screening for prevention and early diagnosis of cancer. American Psychologist, 70(2), 119–133. Available from:
  10. (2020). Mammography. Available from:
  11. National Cancer Institute. (2020). Cancer Statistics. Available from:
  12. Dhingra, K. (1999). Investigational New Drugs, 17(3), 285–311. Available from:
  13. Langley, R.E., Burdett, S., Tierney, J.F., Cafferty, F., Parmar, M.K.B. and Venning, G. (2011). Aspirin and cancer: has aspirin been overlooked as an adjuvant therapy? British Journal of Cancer, 105(8), 1107–1113. Available from:
  14. Shaikh, A.A., Braakhuis, A.J. and Bishop, K.S. (2019). The Mediterranean Diet and Breast Cancer: A Personalised Approach. Healthcare, 7(3), p.104. Available from:
  15. (2010). Blocking Tumor’s Death Switch Stops Tumor Growth: Northwestern University News. Available from:
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