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Cancer Health Center

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8 Ways to Lower Your Cancer Risk

These lifestyle choices may make cancer less likely.

7. Pull Down the Screens.

Many screening tests for various cancers, like mammograms and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing, don’t actually prevent cancer -- they just catch it at a very early stage, when it may be more treatable.

But other tests, like Pap tests and colonoscopies, can help detect precancerous changes that, if left untreated, can turn into cervical cancer or colon cancer.

There are many confusing messages about what screening tests different people should use, and when. Instead of trying to figure it out on your own, Ruffin says, talk to your doctor about your individual situation.

Take screening mammograms, for instance. The question isn’t “Should women under 50 get mammograms?” but “Should I,given my own personal situation and family health history, start mammograms before 50?”

“And don’t think one conversation is enough,” Ruffin says. “Things about your health situation change, and so does our knowledge about cancer and screening. Ask your doctor about it this year, and next year, and the year after that.”

8. Dig Your Roots.

Ruffin advises all of his patients to learn their family health histories in detail. “Family history is where we can really create a personalized strategy for cutting cancer risk and catching it early,” he says. “But it’s a piece I don’t think people bring up nearly often enough.”

So next time you have a family reunion, make it a project to gather information on who’s had what health condition and when. “Gather on Skype or Facebook or face to face and talk about this,” Ruffin says.

The Surgeon General’s Family Health History Initiative lets you create a personalized diagram that you can download to keep on your own computer, or copy and share with other family members to keep the info flowing.

9. Aspirin -- Maybe, and with a Dose of Caution.

Should you take aspirin to prevent cancer? The jury’s still out, but at least some evidence points that way. A large study published in 2010 found that daily use of low-dose aspirin can cut the risk of death due to certain cancers (primarily lung, colorectal, and esophageal cancer) by as much as 21%.

But regular aspirin use can come with side effects, especially stomach bleeding and irritation. Most experts say it’s way too soon to recommend a cancer-fighting aspirin a day.

“We’d all like preventing cancer to be as easy as taking a little pill, but the fact is that you’ll reduce your cancer risk much more by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and eating fruits and vegetables than you will by taking aspirin,” Ruffin says.

Talk to your doctor before you start taking aspirin on a regular basis for any reason.

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Reviewed on February 16, 2012

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