Cancer prevention and screening
No matter what your family history, a healthy lifestyle is the best prevention against cancer.
Your risk for cancer
For a general understanding of your risk for cancer, use the cancer risk tool from Harvard School of Public Health.
Tips to prevent cancer
The American Cancer Society offers the following recommendations:
- Stay away from tobacco.
- Stay at a healthy weight.
- Get moving with regular physical activity.
- Eat healthy with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink (if you drink at all).
- Protect your skin.
- Know yourself, your family history, and your risks.
- Have regular check-ups and cancer screening tests.
Cancer screening recommendations
Early diagnosis offers the best odds of successfully treating cancer – that’s why regular screenings are so important.
Depending on your age, the ACS recommends the following screenings:
- Women ages 20-39 should have a breast exam by a healthcare professional every 3 years, and women over 40 should do so annually.
- Women over 40 should also have mammograms annually, continuing as long as they are in good health.
- Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years.
- Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test every 5 years.
- Women over age 65 who have had regular cervical cancer testing with normal results should not be tested for cervical cancer. Women with a history of a serious cervical pre-cancer should continue to be tested for at least 20 years after that diagnosis, even if testing continues past age 65.
Some women – because of their history – may need to have a different screening schedule for cervical cancer.
Beginning at age 50, both men and women should follow one of these testing schedules:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, or CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years, or
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Fecal occult blood or fecal immunochemical test
Some people should be screened using a different schedule because of their personal history or family history. Talk with your doctor about your history and what colorectal cancer screening schedule is best for you.
The American Cancer Society does not recommend tests to screen for lung cancer in people who are at average risk of this disease. However, there are screening guidelines for individuals who are at high risk due to cigarette smoking. If you are a smoker or former smoker, talk to your doctor about your lung cancer risk.
Starting at age 50, men should talk to a doctor about the pros and cons of testing for prostate cancer so they can decide if testing is the right choice for them.
Men 50 and over with average risk or 45 and over with high risk, and at least a 10-year life expectancy, who do have a PSA test, should repeat it annually if their score is 2.5 ng/ml or more.
Those with a lower PSA score can be tested every other year.
Genetic analysis is a tool that can help determine your risk for certain cancers. It is generally used during diagnosis, as it can’t prevent cancer from occurring – only to help understand your risk. Learn more about genetic analysis.