How to Prevent Cancer, 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.

Get a colonoscopy

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One surefire way for preventing 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 one in three 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. Find out the silent symptoms of colon cancer you might be ignoring.

See your dentist

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You probably don’t associate the dentist with preventing cancer, 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 health-care 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

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You’ve probably been given the advice to wear sunscreen and avoid tanning beds, but your best bet might be to avoid the sun altogether 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.

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