March 9, 2012

How to Prevent Cancer: Current Recommendations

Author: Tom Heston MD

For the majority of people who do not smoke, the prevention of cancer relies mainly upon weight control, dietary habits, and physical activity. Approximately a third of the cancer deaths that occur can be attributed to poor dietary and physical activity habits. Another third of cancer deaths in Americans is due to exposure to tobacco and tobacco products. The final third is due to genetics, spontaneous mutations, unknown factors, or various other reasons. This means that for most people, the risk of cancer is greatly affected by their personal habits.

The American Cancer Society in January, 2012 released guidelines on how to decrease the risk of cancer. Some of their major points include:

* Maintain a proper weight. People who are overweight or obese benefit from even a small decrease in their weight. Exact cutoffs for a healthy weight is somewhat arbitrary, but most experts consider a body mass index between 18.5 and 25.0 kg/m2 to be healthy.

* Consume a healthy diet that emphasizes plant foods.

* Men should consume no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day, and women no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day.

* Adults should engage in about 20 minutes a day of moderately intense physical activity, or about 10 minutes a day of vigorously intense physical activity.

* Children and adolescents should engage in at least an hour of moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity daily. They should engage in vigorous activity at least 3 days a week.

* Eat whole grains instead of refined grain products.

* Limit consumption of processed meat and red meat.

* Read food labels to become more aware of calories consumed, and be aware that "low fat" or "nonfat" does equal "low calorie."

* Eat at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day.

* To minimize risk of breast cancer, in addition to not smoking, engage in regular physical activity and minimize weight gain throughout life.

These American Cancer Society guidelines to reduce the risk of getting cancer are straightforward and relatively easy to adopt. 1. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life. 2. Adopt an active lifestyle. 3. Consume a healthy diet, emphasizing plant based foods. 4. Limit consumption of alcoholic drinks to no more than 1 a day for women and 2 a day for men. 5. Don't smoke or use tobacco products. 5. Finally, get regular cancer screening.


Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2012;62(1):30-67.