Cancer - Prevention

With a goal of preventing cancer, describe the exams and tests you've had, like mammograms.

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Can cancer be prevented?

Most clinicians and researchers are convinced that many cancers can either be prevented or the risk of developing cancers can be markedly reduced. Some of the methods are simple; others are relatively extreme, depending on an individual's view.

Prevention of cancer, by avoiding its potential causes, is the simplest method. First on most clinicians and researchers list is to stop (or better, never start) smoking tobacco. Avoiding excess sunlight (by decreasing exposure or applying sunscreen) and many of the chemicals and toxins is an excellent way to avoid cancers. Avoiding contact with certain viruses and other pathogens also is likely to prevent some cancers. People who have to work close to cancer-causing agents (chemical workers, X-ray technicians, ionizing radiation researchers) should follow all safety precautions and minimize any exposure to such compounds.

There are two vaccines currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent specific types of cancer. Vaccines against the hepatitis B virus, which is considered a cause of some liver cancers, and vaccines against human papillomavirus types 16 and 18, which, according to the NCI, are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancer. This virus also plays a role in cancers arising in the head and neck, as well as cancers in the anal region, and probably in others. Today, vaccination against HPV is recommended in teenagers and young adults of both sexes. The HPV virus is so common that by the age of 50, half or more people have evidence of being exposed to it.

People with a genetic predisposition to develop certain cancers and others with a history of cancers in their genetically linked relatives currently cannot change their genetic makeup. However, some individuals who have a high possibility of developing genetically linked cancer have taken actions to prevent cancer development. For example, some young women who have had many family members develop breast cancer have elected to have their breast tissue removed even if they have no symptoms or signs of cancer development to reduce or eliminate the possibility they will develop breast cancer. Some doctors consider this as an extreme measure to prevent cancer while others do not.

Screening studies for cancer, while they do not prevent cancers, may detect them at an earlier stage when the cancer is more likely to be potentially cured with treatment. Such screening studies are breast exams, testicular exams, colon-rectal exams (colonoscopy), mammography, PSA levels, prostate exams, and others. People who have any suspicion that they may have cancer should discuss their concerns with their doctor as soon as possible. The earlier cancer is disproved or diagnosed and treated, the person will be better served.

Screening recommendations have been the subject of numerous conflicting reports in recent years. Screening may not be cost effective for many groups of patients, but individual patients'  unique circumstances should always be considered by doctors in making recommendations about ordering or not ordering screening tests.

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