National Cancer Prevention Month takes place in February and is aimed at uniting the world’s population in the global fight against cancer. These observations and initiatives serve to increase awareness and empower individuals to live healthier lives. According to a study conducted by the American Cancer Society, at least 42% of newly diagnosed cancers in the US, which translates to about 750,000 cases in 2020, are potentially avoidable. This includes the 19% of all cancers that are caused by smoking and the 18% caused by a combination of excess body weight, alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity.
How to Prevent Cancer or Find It Early
Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide uncontrolled and can invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. Cancer is not just one disease, but many diseases – there are more than 100 types of cancer. For more information, visit the National Cancer Institute’s What Is Cancer.
You can reduce your risk of getting cancer by making healthy choices like maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and protecting your skin by using sunscreens with high SPF.
Getting screening tests regularly may discover breast, cervical, and colorectal (colon) cancers in their early stages, when treatment is likely to work best. Lung cancer screening is recommended for some people who are at high risk.
Speak with your doctor about when and how often you should be screened. Depending on your personal health history, family health history, or screening results, your doctor may recommend a different screening schedule.
Recommended Screening Tests
CDC supports screening for breast, cervical, colorectal (colon), and lung cancers as recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease allows early detection, which can improve patient outcomes. Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.
All women need to be informed by their health care provider about the best screening options for them. Learn about the benefits and risks of screening and decide with your health care provider whether screening is right for you—and if so, when to have it.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is an organization of doctors and disease experts who look at research on the best way to prevent diseases and make recommendations on how doctors can help patients avoid diseases or find them early.
The USPSTF recommends that women between 50 to 74 years old at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other health care professional about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms before age 50.
Most health insurance plans are required to cover screening mammograms every one to two years for women beginning at age 40 with no out-of-pocket cost (like a co-pay, deductible, or co-insurance). Are you worried about the cost? CDC offers free or low-cost mammograms.
For nearly 30 years, CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) has provided low-income, uninsured, and underserved women access to timely breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services.
You may be eligible for free or low-cost screenings if you meet these qualifications—
- You have no insurance, or your insurance does not cover screening exams.
- Your yearly income is at or below 250% of the federal poverty level
- You are between 40 and 64 years of age for breast cancer screening.
- You are between 21 and 64 years of age for cervical cancer screening.
- Certain women who are younger or older may qualify for screening services.
The Pap test can find abnormal cells in the cervix that may turn into cancer. The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes. Pap tests also can find cervical cancer early, when the chance of being cured is very high.
Colorectal (Colon) Cancer
Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment is most successful.
The USPSTF recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) for people who have a history of heavy smoking, and smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and are between 55 and 80 years old.
Vaccines also help lower cancer risk. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent most cervical cancers and several other kinds of cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine can help lower liver cancer risk.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine
- HPV vaccination is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given starting at age 9. HPV vaccine also is recommended for everyone through age 26 years, if they are not vaccinated already.
- HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years. However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have already been exposed to HPV.
HPV vaccination prevents new HPV infections, but does not treat existing infections or diseases. This is why the HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV.
The HPV vaccine does not substitute for routine cervical cancer screening tests (Pap and HPV tests), according to recommended screening guidelines.
Hepatitis B Vaccine
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). It ranges in severity from a mild illness, lasting a few weeks (acute), to a serious long-term (chronic) illness that can lead to liver disease or liver cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups to prevent HBV infection.