Skip to content

    Cancer Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    What Can I Do to Prevent Cancer?

    By Kara Mayer Robinson
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    You've heard a lot about how important it is to cut your risk of cancer, but you probably wonder: Just how much is really in your own hands?

    "There is no bomb-proof way to completely prevent cancer," says James Hamrick, MD, MPH, chief of oncology at Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta. But changes to your lifestyle and the right screening tests can lower your chances of getting the disease.

    Tests That Check for Cancer

    Tests for certain kinds of cancer, like colorectal and cervical, may catch it before it develops.

    Colon cancer, for example, usually starts with growths in your colon called polyps. If your tests spot them, your doctor can often take them out before they turn into cancer.

    There are several tests that check for colon polyps:

    Colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy. In these procedures, your doctor uses a thin tube with a tiny video camera on the end to look inside your colon and rectum. A colonoscopy lets your doctor see those entire areas. But he can only examine part of the colon with a sigmoidoscopy.

    Fecal occult blood test (FOBT). It looks for blood in your bowel movement, which could be a sign of a polyp or cancer.

    To check for cervical cancer in women, doctors use two types of tests:

    Pap test. It can often find changes in cells before they turn into cancer.

    HPV (humanpapilloma virus) test. It looks for infections that may lead to the disease.

    Vaccines

    Some may lower your chances of getting cancer. For example, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine may prevent cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and anal cancer. Getting a hepatitis B vaccine may lower your risk of liver cancer.

    'Chemoprevention'

    Scientists are studying this method to see if it can keep some cancers away. It involves taking a man-made or natural substance.

    So far, results suggest that meds called selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMS), like tamoxifen and raloxifene, may lower the risk of breast cancer in high-risk women.

    It's also possible that finasteride and dutasteride reduce the chances of getting prostate cancer.

    Surgery

    Some women with a high risk of breast cancer choose to have one or both breasts removed as a way to prevent it from developing. This is called "prophylactic" mastectomy.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    man holding lung xray
    What you need to know.
    stem cells
    How they work for blood cancers.
     
    woman wearing pink ribbon
    Separate fact from fiction.
    Colorectal cancer cells
    Symptoms, screening tests, and more.
     
    Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
    Blog
    what is your cancer risk
    HEALTH CHECK
     
    colorectal cancer treatment advances
    Video
    breast cancer overview slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
     
    prostate cancer overview
    SLIDESHOW
    lung cancer overview slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
     
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
    Actor Michael Douglas
    Article