37 Ways to Cut Your Cancer Risk, According to Science

Cancer is the number two killer in America, second only to heart disease. What can you do to reduce your chances of getting this deadly condition? You have more control than you might imagine.

1/37 View as List

Get a colonoscopy

doctorSyda Productions/Shutterstock
One sure-fire way to prevent cancer: Stay up to date with recommended screenings. Although rates of colon cancer deaths have been dropping due to improved screening programs, it's estimated that 1 in 3 adults over 50 aren't being tested as they should. "Screening for colorectal cancer is the most important way to lessen one's cancer risk," says Ashwin Ashok, MD, a gastroenterologist at PIH Health in Whittier, California. Although there are other tests like X-rays, CT scans, or testing on stool, the colonoscopy remains the "gold standard," Dr. Ashok says. "The benefit of a colonoscopy is that it can actually prevent colon cancer," he says. "During a colonoscopy, pre-cancerous lesions called polyps can be identified and removed." Colonoscopies aren't fun—they're done under sedation and you have to empty your bowels completely ahead of time—but they can reduce your cancer risk. "If we can achieve 80 percent screening by 2018, 277,000 fewer people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 203,000 lives will be saved by 2030," Dr. Ashok says. Here are three colon cancer signs you might be ignoring.

See your dentist

dentistLucky Business/Shutterstock
You probably don't associate the dentist with cancer prevention, but regular checkups can help spot anything unusual going on in your mouth or throat. "Unfortunately, there are no good screening techniques for cancer of the throat and mouth," says Robert D. Burk, MD, a specialist in head and neck cancers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Nevertheless, dentists and other healthcare providers can exam the oral cavity for masses and lesions." In addition, studies have shown that poor oral hygiene is a risk factor for head and neck cancer, so brush and floss daily. The National Cancer Institute recommends checking in with your dentist or doctor if you have a mouth sore that won't heal, a sore throat or hoarseness that doesn't go away, or difficulty swallowing. Read about other shocking diseases dentists find first.

Stay out of the sun at midday

walkingNew Age Cinema/Shutterstock
You've probably been given the advice to wear sunscreen and avoid tanning beds, but your best bet might be to avoid the sun all together when it's at its strongest—especially in summer. "Refrain from going to the beach when the sun is high in the sky," Geoffrey Kabat, PhD, a senior epidemiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Health System. "Depending on how fair your skin is, this might be from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m." If you do venture outside, consider the color of your clothing: Bright colors like red and yellow as well as dark ones absorb more UV rays, which protects your skin. Also, wear tightly woven fabrics to prevent the sun from shining through. Here's why sun exposure is no joke.

Take a daily aspirin

Dr. Ashok says that taking a daily aspirin could reduce your cancer risk, and many studies support the advice. Recent research from the Yale Cancer Center found that using aspirin was associated with a 46 percent decreased risk of pancreatic cancer. And a U.K. review of studies found that among people who had cancer, taking aspirin reduced their risk of death. "Our review, based on the available evidence, suggests that low-dose aspirin taken by patients with bowel, breast, or prostate cancer, in addition to other treatments, is associated with a reduction in deaths of about 15 to 20 percent, together with a reduction in the spread of the cancer," study author Professor Peter Elwood, an epidemiologist at Cardiff University, said. Doctors aren't quite sure why aspirin works to prevent cancer—it could be because of its anti-inflammatory effects, although recent research suggests it may also block the interaction of platelets and cancer cells, hindering abnormal growth. Talk with your doctor to see if an aspirin regimen is right for you. Find out Dr. Oz's tips to prevent cancer.

Avoid mouthwash

mouthwashAndrey Popov/Shutterstock
Ironically, even though good oral health is one way how to prevent cancer, using mouthwash daily has been linked to it in some studies. "Alcohol is a risk factor for oral cancer, so mouthwash that is high in alcohol content might be considered a risk factor," says Dr. Burk. Although the link is not well understood, it still might be best to play it safe and choose a mouthwash without alcohol—or better yet, skip the mouthwash all together and stick to brushing and flossing. Here are seven clever ways you never thought to use mouthwash.

Drink more coffee

coffeeBillion Photos/Shutterstock
A recent study from the University of Southern California found that drinking even modest amounts of coffee—regular or decaf—reduced the risk of colorectal cancer by 26 percent. According to the American Cancer Society, it could be the antioxidant properties of coffee beans that helps lower the cancer risk. And it's not just colorectal cancer—prostate, liver, endometrial, and others have also been associated with a reduced risk of cancer from drinking coffee. But be careful—adding cream and sugar could contribute to weight gain that might increase your risk. Plus, "coffee later in the afternoon may disrupt sleep/wake cycles," says Lanie Francis, MD, an oncologist at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center (UPMC) and the director of the UPMC CancerCenter Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program. In more good news, science says mocha lattes are good for your brain.

Limit alcohol

cocktailMaksim Fesenko/Shutterstock
The link between alcohol and cancer is well-established—in fact, in its Report on Carcinogens, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known carcinogen. "Excessive and prolonged alcohol use can weaken the immune system, which is important for preventing and controlling cancer," says Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Head and Neck Oncologic Surgery at UPMC. Dr. Kabat notes that the risk is much worst if you smoke in addition to drinking heavily. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are other links between alcohol and cancer: The ethanol in alcohol breaks down to a toxic chemical that can damage DNA; alcohol may prevent the body from absorbing nutrients that may decrease cancer risk; and it increases estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer. Cancer-causing chemicals could also enter alcoholic beverages during the fermentation process. However, "moderate alcohol, particularly red wine, may have anti-inflammatory properties that contribute to a larger preventative goal," Dr. Francis says. "Personally, I enjoy moderate alcohol as part of lifestyle that promotes gratitude and social engagement." What is the safest amount of alcohol to drink?

Ignore your sweet tooth

hotchocolateFoxy burrow/Shutterstock
Unfortunately, the yumminess that sugar brings your taste buds has many downsides—one of which is an increase in cancer risk. A study from Spain showed how high sugar levels can lead to abnormal cell growth. "The larger theory is that factors related to insulin resistance and the general inflammation from certain types of processed foods may increase growth factors associated with cancer risk," Dr. Francis says. "Working toward your ideal body weight through a diet that limits white sugar" is best, she advises. Find out what type of cancer is hitting millennials hard.

Cool it with hot dogs

Along with sugar, look to cut other processed foods, specifically processed meat, which is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a carcinogen. This means hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats. Also, avoid any meats that have been smoked or cured, which can lead to the production of cancer-causing chemicals. The occasional meaty treat is okay—it's really eating the stuff daily, which can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. "Studies have shown that the higher the intake of processed meat, the higher the risk of colorectal cancers and other chronic diseases," Kana Wu, MD, PhD, a senior research scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said on the school's website. Read about more toxic things you didn't know you were feeding your kids.

Eat less red meat

steakMarian Weyo/Shutterstock
Unfortunately, red meat has also gotten a bad rap when it comes to a cancer prevention diet. IARC classifies it as a "possible carcinogen," and the American Cancer Society recommends a diet low in red meat. "Ideally, we should be thinking of red meat as we do lobster, having it for a special occasion if we like it," Dr. Wu says. "This is how red meat is consumed in many traditional eating cultures, such as the Mediterranean diet." The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests limiting red meat to 18 ounces per week. Why Meatless Mondays and other tiny diet tweaks are the best thing you can do for the planet.

1/37 View as List

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.