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February is National Cancer Prevention Month

When the topic of preventing cancer is raised, it is sometimes met with the question: “Can you prevent cancer?” February is National Cancer Prevention Month and a good opportunity to address that question.

More than 1.8 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed with cancer and an estimated 606,520 will die from complications of these diseases in 2020. In state alone, 34,710 are expected to be diagnosed and 10,790 will die of cancer this year. Chances are someone close to you has had cancer, and it may not have been preventable. That said, with what we know right now, we could prevent up to 50% of cancer cases and about 50% of cancer deaths.

Here are steps you can take to help prevent cancer or detect it early, when it’s most treatable.

Don’t smoke or use tobacco

Cigarette smoking is responsible for about 80 to 90% of all lung cancer cases–and tobacco use can cause at least 12 other types of cancer. The sooner you quit, the more you reduce your risk.

Protect your skin

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. Most cases are caused by exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Wear broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30; wear a hat, sunglasses and other protective clothing; and seek shade if possible. Indoor tanning beds are not a safe alternative.

Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active

Obesity is linked to at least 13 types of cancer, including liver, colorectal and post-menopausal breast cancer. A sedentary lifestyle can also increase your risk of cancer, so get the recommended 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity a week (60 minutes daily for youth).

Eat healthy

Eat a diet filled with fruits, vegetables and fiber and limit red and processed meat consumption. Limit alcohol, which is linked to increased risk of some cancers, to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

Get vaccinated

The HPV vaccine can protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which accounts for most cervical cancer cases. The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls ages 11-12 and a catch-up vaccine is available for older teens and adults. The hepatitis B vaccine—recommended for babies, older children who were not vaccinated earlier and adults who are at risk for the hepatitis B virus—can protect against liver cancer.

Learn your family medical history and get recommended screenings

For some cancers, a family history of the disease can increase risk. Learn your family medical history and talk to your health care professional to determine if you should get screened earlier. Screening for breast, cervical, colorectal, skin and lung cancers can find cancer early.

January is about making resolutions for the year; make February about committing to your health—for life. To learn more about cancer prevention, visit

Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. and a member of Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program.

Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.

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