You’ve likely heard frequent and often conflicting news reports about how certain foods, vitamins or drugs may prevent—or cause—cancer. No single study can provide an answer to what causes or prevents cancer, so you shouldn’t change how you care for your health based on one news report—unless your doctor agrees. But research has yielded positive news on the cancer prevention front. Here’s what we know:
The American Cancer Society recommends eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day as part of a healthy, low-fat diet.
Some plant foods in particular may reduce colon and stomach cancer risk, such as:
- cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage
- green and dark yellow vegetables like spinach, romaine lettuce, carrots, squash and sweet potatoes
- beans and soybean products
Because some cancers are triggered by a virus, vaccines to prevent certain viral infections can protect against cancer. Talk with your healthcare provider about these vaccinations:
- Hepatitis B vaccine. This three- to four-shot series protects against contracting hepatitis B, a viral infection that may become chronic, leading to liver damage and liver cancer. Routine hepatitis B vaccination of children began in 1991.
- HPV vaccine. This vaccine for girls and women protects against the two types of human papillomavirus (more than 100 exist) that cause most cases of cervical cancer as well as the two types that cause most genital warts. The vaccine is recommended for females ages 9 to 26.
The drug raloxifene (brand name Evista), widely prescribed to prevent and treat osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, also protects against invasive breast cancer. Raloxifene is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as only the second drug to prevent breast cancer. The first, tamoxifen, is a better option for premenopausal women.
Research continues, but so far, the most effective cancer preventives are those we’ve known for years. Lifestyle behaviors like not smoking, getting regular activity, protecting your skin from the sun and seeing your healthcare provider for timely screenings like mammograms, colonoscopy, Pap tests and prostate cancer tests shouldn’t be underestimated.