How to prevent cancer

By Gautam Prasad, M.D., Ph.D.                    

When I see men and women who were diagnosed with cancer, they frequently ask, “why me?”  Many tell me that they have led healthy lifestyles including engaging in regular exercise, not smoking, and drinking in moderation.  Unfortunately, cancer is the result of mutations in our cells and cannot be fully prevented.  However, there are several things you can do to improve the odds in your favor:

  • 1.    

1.  Undergo routine screening test as directed by your primary care physician.  These include annual mammograms for women and annual rectal exams for men.  In addition, a colonoscopy every 10 years is recommended.  Many times these tests can find pre-cancerous conditions which can be treated with minimal side effects and much better outcomes.

  • 2.     Eat healthy with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables.  Colorful fruits and vegetables are full of important vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.  While you can get some of these nutrients by taking multi-vitamins, they cannot replace raw fruits and vegetables.

  • 3.  Exercise regularly.  While you don’t have to go to an expensive gym, it is important to regularly engage in physical activity.  You can jog, speed walk, ride a bike, or swim at least three times per week for 30 minutes or more. 

  • 4.  Don’t start smoking or, if you do smoke, quit as soon as possible.  Smoking is a causative factor in numerous cancers including those of the lung, head and neck.  Even if you smoke heavily, quitting dramatically reduces your risk of cancer.


  • 5.  Ask your family members about their own personal experiences with cancer.  If you have had multiple family members with cancer it is possible that you may have a genetic disorder that predisposes you to cancer.  If that is the case, your primary care physician can recommend specific preventative measures or screening tests.


Otherwise healthy patients sometimes ask me why they can’t simply get a “scan” (CT or MRI) to see if they have cancer.  The problem is that these scans, if done indiscriminately, very rarely find cancer but often show benign “lumps” or “masses.”  Biopsying these masses to rule out cancer can be painful and cause numerous side effects.  For instance, if you have a mass in your lung and it is biopsied with a needle it can cause your lung to collapse and require you stay in the hospital with a tube in your chest.  This is why doctors must remain judicious in ordering scans. 

While you cannot fully prevent cancer, the above steps are proactive measures you can take to improve your odds.

Dr. Gautam Prasad is a Radiation Oncologist with Epic Care, a group of experts in the diagnosis and comprehensive treatment of cancer and blood disorders.