Can Cancer Be Prevented?

Cancer can take years, or even decades to develop, yet many people believe that getting cancer is due to genes, fate or bad luck. But scientific research shows that our cancer risk depends on a combination of our genes, our lifestyle and our environment – things we can and cannot control. So, when we talk about cancer prevention, we focus on the areas we can control and how we can lower our risk. This is important: there are things you can do today that can help to prevent, delay, or even stop the cancer process at all stages of life.

Why Is Prevention Important?

Prevention is more important than ever. In the U.S., 1 in 4 people will develop cancer at some point in their lives. A cancer diagnosis can be devastating for patients and their families. The physical and emotional distress may be a compelling enough reason to help individuals lower their cancer risk. But we also know that rates of cancer are increasing in the United States, which translates to a growing burden in terms of treatment and costs for care. By preventing cancer, the number of new cases will be lowered and reduce the burden that cancer places on the population.

How Many Cancers Could Be Prevented

Around 40 percent of cancer cases are preventable, which means that 694,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in the U.S. every year by reducing our exposure to the cancer risk factors that we can control – including diet, weight and physical inactivity.

Lifestyle Risk Factors for Cancer

When we talk about risk factors we can control we often use the word “lifestyle.” AICR’s research shows that the choices you make about maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a healthy, balanced diet, and staying active can reduce your chances of developing cancer. Learn more.

We can also reduce our risk by making choices about not smoking, enjoying the sun safely and avoiding certain infections. Learn more.

Assessing Your Cancer Risk

All of us are at some risk for developing cancer at some point in our lives. It’s difficult to know how much risk, exactly. Some smokers never get lung cancer whereas some healthy, non-smoking individuals do develop lung cancer. Similarly, there are people with obesity who never develop any of the 12 cancer linked to this condition while some lean individuals do.

But for the vast majority of us, our cancer risk is something we can increase or decrease. And that’s what we mean, when we talk to individuals about cancer prevention. You can help protect yourself against cancer. And given that the science says, strongly and consistently, that healthy everyday choices can and do decrease cancer risk, it makes sense to make those choices.

There are no guarantees when it comes to cancer. But every time you decide to go for a run or choose a fresh salad over a fast-food burger, you’re playing the odds. And those odds are very good.

Decades of research into the science of cancer prevention show that a healthy overall lifestyle is the smartest, safest bet you can make.