Five Things You Can Do to Help Prevent Cancer

By: Winship Cancer Institute
Date: Feb 21, 2024
“We know how to prevent a lot of cancers,” says Timothy L. Lash, DSc, MPH, associate director of population sciences at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and the Rollins Professor and Chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the Rollins School of Public Health. “The American Cancer Society says that  we know how to prevent 70% of cancers already.” And, as an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University can give people a better chance to live a full life if they do face a cancer diagnosis.

In January 2024, the American Cancer Society estimated more than 2 million people in the United States will be newly diagnosed with cancer this year, including 63,170 in Georgia. And nationwide, 600,000 will die from cancer in 2024. Men and women aged 50 and above have the highest rates of cancer, and in Georgia, white, Black and Hispanic residents have the highest rates of cancer.

The American Cancer Society also estimates that as many as 45% of cancer deaths are preventable. February is Cancer Prevention Month—a perfect time to assess your risk for cancer and how you might reduce it.

Lash says that Winship’s prevention initiatives focus on Georgia’s high rates of lung cancer, cancer risk related to weight gain, cancers caused by HPV and skin cancer.

To help prevent cancer, Winship’s cancer experts recommend that you:

Don’t Smoke Tobacco

“Given the highly addictive potential of nicotine in cigarettes,” says noted lung cancer expert Suresh S. Ramalingam, MD, FACP, FASCO, Winship’s executive director and the Roberto C. Goizueta Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research at Emory University School of Medicine, “not taking up smoking is the best way to prevent health problems including cancer.” However, he adds that current smokers have options—there are still evidence-based methods to quit smoking and improve their health.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

The National Cancer Institute says that obesity is a risk factor for 13 different cancers. By maintaining a healthy weight, you can avoid these risks. “A healthy lifestyle, including eating foods like vegetables, whole grains, beans and fruit, can help you reduce your risk for cancer and several other chronic diseases,” says Tiffany Barrett, MS, RD, CSO, LD, who manages the dietitians at Winship. “Choosing lean protein options and reducing your intake of red and processed meats—small, simple changes to your daily diet is the first step in healthy eating.” Emory Healthcare offers weight management programs since diet and exercise alone aren’t always enough for people to maintain a healthy weight.

Get the HPV Vaccine

“Each year in the United States, there are more than 40,000 new cases of the six HPV-related cancers, which include cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile and oropharyngeal,” says Winship Cancer Prevention and Control researcher Robert A. Bednarczyk, PhD, associate professor of global health at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. Bednarczyk, whose research focuses on the prevention of cervical cancer and other human papillomavirus-related diseases through the use of HPV vaccination, says, “Because many of these cancers don’t have routine screening tests, we aren’t able to catch them early—so HPV vaccination is a safe and effective way to prevent them.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HPV vaccination for people from age 9 up to 45 years old. The CDC advises that unvaccinated individuals between ages 27 and 45 can still benefit from the vaccine, and they should speak with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination.

Limit Sun Exposure

“Dermatologists generally recommend avoiding the midday sun, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., to reduce your risk of skin cancer,” says board-certified dermatologist Benjamin K. Stoff, MD. “We also recommend wearing sun-protective clothing and using broad spectrum sunscreens with UVA/UVB protection and an SPF rating of 30 or higher.” Stoff, a researcher in Winship’s Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program and associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine, adds, “Reapplying sunscreen every few hours while outside, especially while engaging in vigorous activity, is also important.”

Get Screened

Cancer screening means looking for cancer before you may experience any symptoms of cancer. Screening can find cancer early, which can make it easier to treat or cure. By the time there are symptoms, the cancer may already have grown or spread, making it harder to treat or cure.

“Lung, breast, colon and prostate cancer account for over 50% of all new cancers in Georgia,” says Ramalingam. “These cancers can be detected early through screening, and it is important for Georgians to undergo regular screening for relevant cancers.” Screening tests also are available for cervical cancer, head and neck cancer and skin cancer. Read more about screenings you should talk to your doctor about scheduling.

If you or your loved one needs cancer diagnostics and treatment, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is here to help. At Winship, cancer care is led by compassionate and experienced specialists in cancer who will be with you or your loved one every step of the way—from diagnosis to treatment and long after.

“These cancers can be detected early through screening, and it is important for Georgians to undergo regular screening for relevant cancers.”

About Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Dedicated to discovering cures for cancer and inspiring hope, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a prestigious distinction given to the top tier of cancer centers nationwide for making breakthroughs against cancer. Winship is researching, developing, teaching and providing patients with novel and highly effective ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, treat and survive cancer.

Cancer care at Winship includes leading cancer specialists collaborating across disciplines to tailor treatment plans to each patient’s needs; innovative therapies and clinical trials; comprehensive patient and family support services; and a care experience aimed at easing the burden of cancer. Winship is Where Science Becomes Hope.
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