Cancer Prevention Month: Eight Tips to Reduce Your Risk


Technologist preparing woman for mammogram

February is National Cancer Prevention Month, a good time to spread awareness about the steps you can take and the changes you can make to lower your risk of developing cancer – the second leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease. 

According to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), more than 40% of the 2 million cancer cases diagnosed last year, and nearly half of the more than 60,000 cancer deaths, can be attributed to preventable causes like smoking, alcohol consumption, sun exposure, excess body weight and physical inactivity. 

Which means you can significantly lower your cancer risks, by quitting smoking or never starting, eating healthy and staying active, protecting your skin from damaging ultraviolet rays, and being vaccinated against pathogens like hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus (HPV), which are known to cause cervical, liver and other cancers.

In addition to making these healthy lifestyle choices, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends closely following cancer screening guidelines. 

While many cancers cannot be detected early, four cancers that are on the rise – breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate – have effective screening tests.  In fact, cervical and colorectal cancer screening can actually prevent cancer altogether by detecting precancerous lesions which can be removed.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation offers the following tips that can lower your risk or catch cancer early, when it is easier to treat successfully.

An older male patient consults with his physician

Get regular medical care

Talk to your health care provider about your family history, cancer screening tests you should have, and when to begin. Regular screenings for skin, breast, colon and cervical cancer increase the chance of detecting and treating the disease at an early stage.  

Don’t use or quit tobacco

Tobacco use – cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco – is linked to many kinds of cancer including lung, mouth, throat, esophageal, breast, bladder, cervical and colorectal. According to the ACS, smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths in the U.S.

Protect your skin from the sun

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. and it is also the most preventable. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 85% of melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Use adequate sun protection (sunscreen, hats, clothing) year round and never use indoor tanning beds.

A woman shops for fruits and vegetables at grocery store

Eat a healthy diet

Consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, limit red meat, processed meats and foods that are high in sodium and added sugars. A 2021 study showed that eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily resulted in a 10% lower risk of death from cancer.

Limit alcohol consumption

Drinking alcohol is linked to liver, breast, colorectal, esophageal and oral cancers.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends that adults who drink alcoholic beverages do so in moderation. Women should have one drink or less per day and men should have two drinks or less per day.  

Be physically active and maintain a healthy weight

Nearly 20 percent of U.S. cancer diagnoses are related to excess body weight, unhealthy dietary patterns, alcohol intake, and physical inactivity. Obesity is tied to several cancers including endometrial, liver, pancreas, kidney, colon and breast (particularly in post-menopausal women). 

A Black woman works out with weights in a group outdoors

It’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. In addition to lowering cancer risk, being physically active can help control weight, boost the immune system and reduce stress.

Avoid risky behaviors

The human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer and other genital cancers as well as cancers of the head and neck. Practicing safe sex and using a condom correctly can help protect you against HPV. 

Hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV can be spread through sex or blood by sharing needles for injection drug use. Both hepatitis viruses can cause long-term liver infection increasing the risk of developing liver cancer. People with HIV have a higher risk of anal, liver and lung cancers. Not sharing needles, limiting the number of sexual partners and using condoms can reduce your risk of infection and developing cancer.

Get the HPV and Hepatitis B vaccines

Getting vaccinated can protect you against viruses linked to certain cancers including HPV and hepatitis. Children should be vaccinated against HPV between ages 9-12. Older teens and young adults (ages 13 to 26) who did not get shot can get a “catch-up” vaccination series and the Gardasil 9 vaccine is now FDA-approved for men and women ages 27-45.

Most liver cancers are linked to hepatitis B or hepatitis C.  While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all children and adults up to age 59, as well as adults age 60 and over at high risk for hepatitis B infection. 


A note on breast and colon cancer screening at South Shore Health

With many patients having to cancel or postpone appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are longer wait times to book a mammogram or colonoscopy.  

South Shore Medical Center patients making mammography appointments at the Norwell practice or at the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center at South Shore Health can ask to be added to our FAST Pass wait list and claim an earlier appointment in the event of a cancellation. Patients can get on the FAST pass wait list by logging into their South Shore Health MyChart account or by calling 781-878-5200.  

Due for a colonoscopy? Patients who are 45 years or older and considered at low risk for colon cancer, can speak to their provider about screening with an at home stool DNA test kit, such as Cologuard. A positive test result reported to your provider, should prompt the scheduling of a diagnostic colonoscopy.


Learn more about cancer care at the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center at South Shore Health.