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    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.

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