Answers to Common Cancer Prevention Questions

Premier Physician Network doctors answer frequently asked questions about cancer prevention.

What is a person’s family history?

Dr. Ordway discusses family history. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

A medical family history is a record of the health background of your close relatives, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

Because family members often have things in common – including genes, environment, and lifestyle – medical conditions frequently can continue through generations and along family lines, according to the NIH.

A medical health history should include information such as diseases, chronic conditions, age of diagnosis, ethnic background, and racial background, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s HealthOff Site Icon (HHS).

Talk to your doctor for more information about family history.

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When speaking to a physician, should family history only include first-degree relatives?

Dr. Ordway discusses what a family history should include. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

A complete family medical history includes health information about at least three generations of relatives, including children, siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and cousins, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

When it comes to some conditions – like cancers – sharing details about even distant relatives can be important, according to the NIH. Having even a distant relative with cancer in their medical history can put you at risk of developing the same type of cancer.

Knowing your full family health history can help your physician decide when the right time is to do certain health screenings and testing, according to the NIH.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how many relatives to include in your family medical history.

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Why is it important for someone to know their family history when it pertains to cancer prevention?

Knowing your family medical history can make a big difference in your cancer prevention efforts, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

If you have an increased risk of cancer because of your family medical history, your doctor might recommend frequent or early screenings or tests for the types of cancer that run in your family, according to the NIH.

Some types of cancer are considered hereditary and can be detected by genetic testing, according to the American Society of Clinical OncologyOff Site Icon (ASCO). Knowing a type of cancer is hereditary can help doctors create even more personalized care for patients.

For more information about how family medical history can help with cancer prevention, talk with your doctor.

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How can someone find out when they should be screened for cancer?

Dr. Ordway discusses cancer screenings. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The best way to find out if you should be screened for cancer is to talk to your doctor, according to Premier HealthNet (PPN) physicians. Every person is different, and your family medical history can help determine when is right for you to get different types of cancer screenings.

Talk to your doctor for more information about cancer screenings and when they might be right for you.

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What are examples of certain cancers that might warrant earlier screening because of family history of cancer?

All cancer screenings can be important, but some screenings might need to be done earlier than usual if you have a family history of cancer.

For men, screenings for colon cancer and prostate cancer might need to be done starting at a younger age if you have an increased risk of cancer, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

For women, breast cancer and colon cancer screenings might be recommended by your doctor at an earlier age if you have a family history or other risk factors that increase your chances of cancer, according to the ACS.

Talk to your doctor for more information about cancer screenings that might be done earlier.

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Can all cancers be prevented, and how do we know this through recent research?

Dr. Washington discusses whether all types of cancers can be prevented. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Multiple studies in recent years, including one reported the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH), state how most types of cancer are preventable through lifestyle changes.

It is believed that only 5 percent to 10 percent of all cancer cases – more than 10,000 worldwide each year – can be attributed to genetic defects, according to the NIH. That leaves 90 percent to 95 percent of cancer cases where the cause can be attributed to environment and lifestyle choices.

Those lifestyle and environmental choices could include smoking, diet, alcohol use, sun exposure, pollutants in the environment, infections, obesity, stress and physical inactivity, according to the NIH.

For more information about which cancers can be prevented, talk with your doctor.

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What is the prostate, and what role does it play in a man’s health?

Dr. Ordway discusses the prostate and how it affects a man’s health. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The prostate is a gland found only in men. It is located below the bladder and in front of the rectum, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS).

The prostate holds cells that make up some parts of semen – the fluid that protects and nourishes sperm, according to the ACS.

For more information about the prostate, talk with your doctor.

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What are the screening tools for prostate cancer?

There are two main types of prostate cancer screenings – a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC):

  • DRE – In this exam, a doctor or nurse inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel for any lumps or abnormalities. The check also feels for the size of the prostate.
  • PSA – This exam measures the levels of PSA – a substance made by the prostate – in the blood. High levels of PSA in the blood can be a sign of prostate cancer, or another prostate condition.

Having these screenings can help find prostate cancer in its early stages so treatment can be started as soon as possible.

Talk with your doctor for more information about prostate screening tools and when and if they are right for you.

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How can consumption of certain food – for example red meat, salt or sugar – increase someone’s risk for developing cancer?

Eating a healthy diet is not only part of improving your overall health but also part of reducing your risk of getting cancer, according the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

The foods we eat regularly make up our diet, and diet is one of many things being studied as a risk factor for cancer, according to the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI). For example, some studies have shown:

  • Fruits and non-starchy vegetables could help protect against mouth, esophagus and stomach cancers
  • Fruits might protect against lung cancer
  • High-fat, protein, calories, and red meat diets could increase the risk of colorectal cancer

To reduce your cancer risk by watching what foods you eat, the CDC recommends:

  • Avoid creamy sauces and dressings for fruits and vegetables
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grains
  • Don’t eat salty foods
  • Eat at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Limit eating refined carbohydrates, including candy, pastries, sweetened breakfast cereal and other high-sugar food
  • Limit the amount of processed meats you eat, including bacon, sausage, lunch meats and hot dogs

For more information about how foods increase your cancer risk, talk with your doctor.

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How does smoking or tobacco use increase someone’s risk for developing cancer?

Smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for developing lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC). Other tobacco use also increases the risk of lung cancer.

Tobacco smoke is a mix of more than 7,000 toxic chemicals, many of which are poisonous, and at least 70 of which are known to cause cancer, according to the CDC.

Smoking is linked to about 90 percent of lung cancers in the U.S., according to the CDC, and people who smoke are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who don’t smoke.

For more information about how smoking and tobacco use cause lung cancer, talk with your doctor.

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Are there different forms of skin cancer, and how does it develop?

There are three different types of skin cancer, and each is named for the type of cell that becomes cancerous, according to the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI).

The three types of skin cancer, according to the NCI, are:

  • Basal cell: The face is the most common place to find this type of skin cancer, which usually occurs in places that have been exposed to the sun. Basal cell skin cancer is the most common form for people with fair skin to have.
  • Melanoma: This type of cancer can happen on any surface skin, but on men it’s most common on the head, neck and between the shoulders and hips. In women, it’s most often on the lower legs or between the shoulders and hips. Melanoma is rare in people with dark skin, but if they do have it, it is usually found under the fingernails, under the toenails, on the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet.
  • Squamous cell: This is the most common form of cancer in people with dark skin, for whom it is usually found in places that are not frequently in the sun, such as the legs and feet. In fair-skinned people, this cancer usually occurs on the head, face, ears and neck, which have been exposed to sun.

Skin cancer develops as regular skin cells start to grow abnormally, according to the American Academy of DermatologyOff Site Icon (AAD). Oftentimes it develops on parts of the skin that have been exposed to the sun without proper protection, like sunscreen.

For more information about types of skin cancer and how it develops, talk with your doctor.

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What lifestyle habits can increase someone’s risk of developing skin cancer?

Sometimes you can put yourself at risk of developing skin cancer without even realizing it.

According to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS), some lifestyle behaviors that can put you at risk of developing skin cancer include:

  • Choosing to use a tanning bed or intentionally spending a lot of time outside to get tan
  • Having occupational exposure to arsenic compounds, coal tar, creosote, pitch or radium
  • Ignoring a family history of skin cancer
  • Ignoring unusual moles rather than having them checked out
  • Not using sunscreen anytime you will be outside, even on overcast days

For more information about behaviors that put you at risk of developing skin cancer, talk with your doctor.

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How can exercise help reduce someone’s risk for diseases like cancer?

Research has shown that physical activity likely can help reduce cancer risk, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

The NIH states that several studies have shown links between exercise and reduced risk of the following types of cancer:

  • Breast
  • Colon
  • Endometrial (uterus)
  • Lung
  • Prostate

Exercising decreases levels of insulin in the blood stream and improves other factors that would otherwise increase the risk of cancer, according to Premier HealthNet (PPN) physicians.

Talk with your physician for more information about how exercise can help reduce someone’s risk for diseases like cancer.

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How important is exercise in a person’s overall health?

Regular exercise can have great benefits to most areas of your overall health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

Before starting any new exercise routine, talk with your health care provider to decide the best option for you. Fortunately, moderate-intensity aerobic activity, which could include brisk walking or swimming, is safe for most people.

Some of the benefits the CDC states that exercise can have on overall health include:

  • Controls weight
  • Helps prevent falls for older adults
  • Improves mental health
  • Improves mood
  • Improves your ability to do daily activities
  • Increases odds of longer life
  • Prevents bone loss
  • Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduces risk of some cancers
  • Strengthens bones and muscles

In addition to these benefits, exercise also can help improve sleep, help control depression and anxiety, improve self-image, boost energy levels, and release tension, according to the American Heart AssociationOff Site Icon (AHA).

For more information about how exercise is important to your overall health, talk with your doctor.

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What other type of lifestyle changes are important to reduce one’s risk of cancer?

Making positive, healthy lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of cancer, as well as other major health concerns, such as heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

The CDC recommends making the follow lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of cancer and other leading causes of death:

  • Avoid tobacco use
  • Be physically active on a consistent basis
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Limit sun and UV ray exposure
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Talk to your doctor for more information about how lifestyle changes can help reduce your cancer risk.

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Is there a difference between ultraviolet light exposures outside and in a tanning bed? Is exposure in a tanning bed as harmful?

Dr. Washington discusses outside and tanning bed ultraviolet light exposure. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Tanning – whether you get tan outside or in a tanning bed – puts you at risk of developing skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer FoundationOff Site Icon (SCF).

All tans are caused by harmful forms of ultraviolet radiation and cause damage to your skin cells. At a minimum, the damage of years of exposure to tanning can cause premature skin aging – including wrinkles, sagging skin and brown spots, according to the SCF.

Statistics show that people who use UV tanning beds and tanning lamps are 74 percent more likely to develop skin cancer than people who have only gotten tan while outside, according to the SCF.

For more information about tanning indoors and outside, talk with your doctor.

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How can someone enjoy spending time in the sun without putting themselves at risk for developing skin cancer?

Spending time in the sun enjoying your favorite outdoor activities is fun, and you don’t have to skip out on that to avoid the risk of skin cancer.

The best ways to lower your risk of skin cancer while being outside in the sun, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS), include:

  • Apply and reapply sunscreen and lip balm that is SPF 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours (or more frequently if swimming or sweating)
  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when possible
  • Look for shade, especially in the middle of the day
  • Protect your skin even on overcast days
  • Put on a hat, preferably one with a wide brim that shades your face, neck and ears
  • Wear protective clothing that is comfortable and made of tightly woven fabrics
  • Wear sunglasses with 99 percent to 100 percent UV absorption

For more information about spending time in the sun while staying safe from skin cancer, talk with your doctor.

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What is the human papillomavirus? What is the best way to reduce the risk of getting HPV?

Dr. Washington discusses the human papillomavirus. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Human papilloma virus – commonly known as HPV – is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

There are more than 100 kinds of HPV, most of them are harmless, according the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). But, about 30 can cause cervical dysplasia – changes to cells on the surface of the uterus that can be a sign of cancer.

The best way to prevent HPV is to get the HPV vaccine, according to the NIH. If girls get the vaccine before becoming sexually active, they reduce their chances of getting cervical cancer.

The vaccine is recommended for girls and women ages 11 through 26, and boys and men ages 11 through 21. It is given in three doses over a six month period, according to the CDC.

For people who are sexually active, using condoms from start to finish of every sex act can help lower the risk of HPV, but they do not fully protect against it, according to the CDC.

For more information about HPV and how to prevent it, talk with your doctor.

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When should the HPV vaccine be given to be most effective, and what are the concerns about the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is the best way to prevent getting HPV, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). If girls get the vaccine before becoming sexually active, they reduce their chances of getting cervical cancer.

The vaccine is recommended for girls and women ages 11 through 26, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC). It is also recommended that boys and men ages 11 through 21 get the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine is given in three doses over a six month period, according to the CDC.

Though the vaccine has been used around the world for about six years and has been safe, there are still some concerns about it.

Like many medications, there is the possibility it could cause a severe allergic reaction, according to the NIH. That kind of life-threatening reaction from a vaccine, however, is very rare.

Other mild to moderate side problems with the vaccine that could be of concern, according to the NIH, include:

  • Brief fainting spells
  • Headache
  • Mild to moderate fever
  • Pain and redness at the injection site

The HPV vaccine, like all vaccines, will continue to be monitored to ensure its safety, according to the NIH.

For more information about when to get the HPV vaccine and concerns about it, talk with your doctor.

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Thanks to Premier Physician Network doctors for answering these common questions about cancer prevention:

Additional Resources

This website provides general medical information that should be used for informative and educational purposes only. Information found here should not be used as a substitute for the personal, professional medical advice of your physician. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting a physician.

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