February is National Cancer Prevention Month and a time to help increase awareness nationwide about cancer, its causes and what we can do to prevent it.

So, can you really prevent cancer?  The answer is………sometimes!

Some cancer risk factors cannot be controlled, such as age, sex, race or ethnicity, family history and inherited genetic characteristics. However, only about 5 to 10 percent of cancers are caused by these inherited genes. The rest can often be attributed to actions/choices that happen during a person’s lifetime.

Many cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy choices. Let’s explore some of the risk factors and areas in which we can make a difference:

Smoking and Tobacco use – Smoking tobacco is a major risk factor for cancer, accounting for about 30 percent of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Not only do smokers themselves have a higher risk of cancer, but so do non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke. Nicotine is addictive, and quitting smoking can be challenging.  But there are proven health benefits to smoking cessation and the sooner you quit, the better for your health

Sun Protection – Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds is the major risk factor for skin cancer. Reducing sun exposure is the best way to prevent skin cancer. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 when your skin is exposed to the sun.  When possible, stay out of the sun during midday, when the rays are more intense. When outdoors, wear long sleeves and pants, a hat with a brim and sunglasses that block UV rays.

Diet and Exercise – A healthy diet and regular physical activity can also reduce the risk of cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends a well-balanced diet that is high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains and lean proteins. Limit the amount of alcohol to no more than two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women. And move more!  The benefits of physical activity go beyond weight loss. People who do more physical activity have a lower risk of breast, endometrial, prostate and colon cancers

Infections and Vaccines – Some types of cancer are caused by viruses or bacteria and preventing or treating the infection can reduce the risk of cancer. Infections such as HPV and Hepatitis B can now be prevented with a vaccine.

Experts recommend routine screenings for breast cancer, cervical cancer and colon cancer. Be sure to talk with your doctor about which screenings are right for you.  Getting these tests regularly may help find cancer early when treatment tends to work best.