Editor’s note: This blog post was medically reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD
February is National Cancer Prevention Month.
As we enter a month dedicated to informing the public about the importance of cancer prevention and early detection, keep reading for up-to-date information on cancer statistics, risk factors, and actionable steps and resources for you and your loved ones.
By the end of this article, you will learn how you can protect yourself and loved ones from developing cancer, and how to speak with your healthcare providers about your cancer risk and discuss appropriate health screening options.
Table of Contents
- 2023 General Cancer Rates Statistics
- What Increases My Risk of Cancer?
- How Can I Detect Cancer Early
- How Can I Prevent Cancer?
- Additional Resources on Cancer Awareness and Prevention
- Cancer Awareness Events in February
- Take Action This Cancer Awareness Month
2023 General Cancer Rates Statistics
As the leading cause of death across America, second only to heart disease, cancer is a serious health issue. According to the CDC, more than 1,752,700 new cancer cases were reported in 2019, with 599,589 cases resulting in death.
For every 100,000 individuals, 439 new cancer cases were reported and 146 people died of cancer. The percentage of any type of cancer for individuals aged 18 and over in the United States in 2021 was just under 10%.
Cancer is also the second leading cause of death across the world, with 10 million people dying from cancer every year.
The most common types of cancers being diagnosed and treated annually are:
- Lung and Bronchus
- Colon and Rectum
The good news?
The combined cancer death rate for men and women fell over 30% between 1991 and 2019, resulting in 3.5 million fewer cancer deaths, partly because more people are being diagnosed at an early stage of the disease.
Research by the American Cancer Society suggests that 42% of all projected new cancers are potentially avoidable. This includes cancers caused by smoking and a combination of excess body weight, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and alcohol consumption.
What Increases My Risk of Cancer?
Everyone is at risk of developing cancer, although the likelihood increases with age. Many cancers are preventable, especially those caused by unhealthy habits and behaviors such as smoking.
Here are some of the known variables that can increase one’s risk of cancer.
Lifestyle Risk Factors
Smoking causes at least 30% of all fatal cancer cases in the United States. Use of most tobacco products, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco, exposes one to cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke known as carcinogens.
Lung cancer is most closely attributed to tobacco use. In addition, at least 19 other cancer sites can be causally connected to smoking.
Here are just seven of the 70 chemicals found in tobacco smoke that are known to cause cancer, as well as heart disease:
- Hydrogen cyanide
- Radioactive elements, such as polonium-210 (see below)
- Carbon monoxide
- Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs)
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Alcohol use is also linked to increased cancer risk. In general, the risk of cancer increases after one daily drink for women, and two daily drinks for men.
Heavy-alcohol use, such as having more than five drinks per day, markedly increases the risk for liver cancer and colorectal cancer.
Used together with tobacco, alcohol consumption further increases the chances of getting cancers of the mouth, throat, and esophagus.
Overall Health Status
Excessive body weight, alcohol consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to an increased risk of cancer.
From the Cancer Atlas, here’s how your overall health affects risk of cancer:
- Obesity and overweight can increase the risk of 13 types of cancer, and accounted for over 3% of all new cancer cases in 2012. Excess body weight is thought to contribute to at least one-in-five cancer-related deaths in the United States.
- Physical activity reduces risks of colon cancer and, among women, risks of breast and endometrial cancer. On the other hand, high amounts of sugary beverages and sedentary behaviors can lead to excess body weight.
- Alcohol consumption is known to cause cancers in the pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, and colon, among other organs. Worldwide, 4.2% of cancer deaths were attributed to alcohol consumption in 2016.
The four most important cancer-causing infections worldwide are Helicobacter pylori, human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus. Together, these account for more than 90% of all infection-related cancers. These infections usually target the liver, stomach, and cervix in women.
Perhaps not surprisingly, poor sleep health is associated with risk or cancer due to its impact on immune functions, stress response, and hormone function.
The findings regarding the connection between sleep duration and cancer risks are mixed and uncertain. However, lack of proper sleep may encourage unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco use, both of which are linked to cancer.
Family Genetics and History
Personal and family health history may indicate specific inherited changes in a person’s DNA (or genetic mutations) that may increase a patient’s chances of getting cancer.
For example, if you or a loved one has a family history of breast cancer, ovarian, or colorectal cancer, you may be at higher risk for the same cancer types.
Age may also lead to increased risk of cancer. However, research seems to show that the risk of cancer decreases again at 70 years of age for most patients, making the 45-70 years range the most crucial for cancer prevention.
How Can I Detect Cancer Early
First, regular self-examinations and awareness of changes in the body are crucial in finding cancer early.
Staying vigilant for early signs of potential cancer, such as lumps in the breasts, dry patches of skin after sun exposure, and other signs of precancer, can lead to earlier detection of the disease. Bringing these changes to the attention of a healthcare provider can result in more effective treatments with fewer side effects.
Next, screening may detect cancers early, when treatment may be less intensive and more successful. This practice may also help reduce your risk of colorectal and cervical cancers by detecting and removing precancerous lesions in the colon, rectum, and uterine cervix.
Another good example is having regular mammograms, an X-ray based test that helps detect early signs of breast cancer. This type of screening test can help detect breast cancer at an early stage, sometimes up to several years before it is palpable.
Repeat screenings, such as the Ezra full-body MRI, can help monitor your body across time and flag any abnormalities early, which can have significant and sometimes life saving consequences.
How Can I Prevent Cancer?
Let’s take a closer look at evidence-based strategies that can help reduce your risk of cancer.
A Diet Rich in Plant Foods
The National Institute for Cancer Prevention notes that a healthy diet rich in plant foods results in a lower risk of certain cancers.
Eating more than two cups of fruits and vegetables each day may reduce risk of cancer in the following organs:
Reducing your consumption of saturated fat and red meat may also help decrease risk of colon cancer and prostate cancer.
Physical activity reduces inflammation in the body, improves immune system functions, and helps maintain a healthy weight.
The cancers most directly related to lack of physical activity are the breast and uterus for women, and the colon and rectum for men and women. This is because exercise lowers the levels of sex hormones and insulin, both of which are associated with cancer development.
The American Cancer Society encourages adults to engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity. Achieving or exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes per week is optimal.
Muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week is also advised, as is balance training. Also, try to limit sedentary behavior throughout the day, such as sitting or lying down.
Restricting intentional outdoor tanning and unintentional sun exposure is helpful in reducing risk of skin cancer, also known as melanoma. Diagnosed skin cancers can usually be traced back to excessive sun exposure, as well as improper use of indoor tanning devices.
Leisure pursuits near water, outdoor sports, and work around the home are some of the most frequent contexts where one might be sunburned.
Make sure to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure when outdoors by wearing long sleeves and long pants or skirts, a sun hat, or putting on some sunscreen.
Limit Intake of Sugary Drinks
An excess of sugar easily leads to an increase in body weight, which is linked to cancer risk. More than ten cancers can be linked to obesity. One way sugar enters our body is through sweet drinks, often when we’re not even conscious of their sugar content.
As a practical step in reducing your risk for cancer, try cutting down on sugary drinks and replacing them with water, tea, or other unsweetened and healthier options.
Cut Down on Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol may contain carcinogens such as nitrosamines and pheonals that may increase cancer risk, as well as impairing the body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients that help fight cancer.
Once alcohol is ingested, it can be converted to acetaldehyde, which has been shown to damage DNA in cells, as well as inflammation in the body. Because of this, alcohol consumption in general is not encouraged.
The American Cancer Society recommends that people who choose to drink alcohol should limit their intake to no more than two drinks per day for men, and a drink a day for women.
Breastfeed When Possible
There’s good evidence to suggest that breastfeeding reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancers in women. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, breastfeeding has been shown to reduce both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer.
The reason for this lies in the hormonal changes that take place in a woman’s body during lactation, including a decrease in exposure to androgens, which may influence cancer risk.
Additional Resources on Cancer Awareness and Prevention
- The European Code Against Cancer (ECAC): Developed by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, this code aims to inform people about actions they can take for themselves or their families to reduce cancer risk.
- Cancer Research UK: Their About Cancer page is a comprehensive, easy-to-understand resource on cancer, its causes, and how it is best treated.
- World Cancer Day: An organization dedicated to raising awareness around cancer and spreading the word about cancer prevention, World Cancer Day’s “What is Cancer?” page explains how cancer works and what we can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.
- National Cancer Institute: Their Dictionary of Cancer Terms gives you an overview of more than 9,000 definitions of terms related to cancer diagnosis and medicine.
- The Cancer Atlas: Discover if you’re engaging in activities that might increase your cancer risk.
- World Cancer Research Fund International: Explore their cancer prevention recommendations.
- Ezra’s blog on early cancer detection and MRI screening is always available, guiding you through various screening options, and approaches to preventing cancer.
Cancer Awareness Events in February
The entire month of February 2023 is dedicated to preventing cancer, informing the public, and raising funds for cancer research. As we enter February, keep these two special dates in mind.
World Cancer Day on February 4
World Cancer Day, led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), is an annual event aimed at raising awareness of cancer and promoting prevention, detection, and treatment. It supports the objectives outlined in the World Cancer Declaration.
World Cancer Day was established on February 4, 2000 in Paris. Twenty-three years later, it’s going stronger than ever!
This year, World Cancer Day is running a 5-kilometer initiative to spread the word about cancer prevention while keeping everyone involved moving and active.
The primary goal is to reduce illness and death caused by cancer worldwide, as well as to reduce stigma and misinformation around cancer.
The 2022-2024 theme, “Close the Care Gap”, specifically focuses on collaboration between professional caregivers, honoring cancer survivors, and encouraging improvements in the cancer care field.
National Donor Day on February 14
Valentine’s Day overlaps with National Donor Day this year. This date honors those who donate to help prevent and treat cancer.
Besides your voice, money, and time, donating your blood, platelets, and bone marrow to further research and help fight infections can be a meaningful donation.
Here is a complete list of ways you can donate on National Donor Day 2023.
Take Action This Cancer Awareness Month
Routine health screening tests, such as the Ezra full-body scan, may help detect cancer early and prevent cancer deaths. It can help assess the current status of your health, monitor your body across time, and flag any abnormalities before they become critical health issues.
Take control of your well-being and empower yourself by being proactive about your health, paving the way for a happier, healthier you in the future.
Book a scan today, or gift an Ezra full-body scan to a loved one. Or calculate your cancer risk in 5 minutes or less.
For any questions or concerns you may have, schedule a call with our team to learn more. Call us at (888) 402-3972, or email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org