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Preventive Measures

GENERAL CANCER PREVENTION

Most cancers are thought to be related to lifestyle or environmental factors, and large numbers undoubtedly could be prevented by judicious changes in personal habits or avoidance of exposure to environmental carcinogens. Research constantly reveals new facts about cancer's causes, and as we learn the biological processes involve the potential for preventing cancer increases substantially.

Unless a definite cause has been identified for a particular type of cancer, little can be done to prevent it. Identification of risk factors and increased surveillance for those at risk may lead to earlier diagnosis and prompt treatment.

The best means of reducing cancer risk is to avoid unnecessary exposure to known cancer-causing agents. Some preventive strategies are applicable to more than one type of cancer, as well as to other life-threatening conditions such as heart disease.


PREVENTIVE STRATEGIES

Avoid smoking and tobacco products. The most effective step anyone can take in preventing premature death from many causes is to stop smoking, or better still, never start.

Adopt and maintain a healthy diet. A diet including abundant fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and legumes provides fibre and antioxidant vitamins. Switching to low-fat foods may forestall some forms of cancer.

Avoid workplace and other environmental exposures. Protecting workers and the public at large from carcinogenic substances at a less than prohibitive cost has become a major social and economic challenge. Passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1970 formalized the government's role in protecting workers from occupational hazards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with minimizing the presence of harmful environmental pollutants. Although these governmental agencies are constantly attacked for excess stringency or laxness, they represent the basic framework for reduction of environmental and occupational hazards.

Avoid or limit radiation exposure. Radiation's potential benefits must always be weighed against possible risks. Routine chest x-rays are no longer recommended as part of an annual physical exam without clear indications of their benefit. Radiation therapy is no longer used for relatively benign conditions such as acne or tonsillitis because of the increased risk of cancer. In addition, radiation dosage administered by modern x-ray machines has been reduced markedly.

Avoid unprotected sun exposure. Ultraviolet light, which causes cellular damage, is the most common cause of skin cancer. A commonsense approach to sun exposure can prevent most cases of this potentially disfiguring cancer. People with fair skin should be particularly careful to limit their sun exposure. Although most skin cancers are not life threatening, the increase in malignant melanoma, a potentially lethal condition, is thought to be due to increases in sun exposure.

Avoid unsafe sexual practices. Because of the role of sexually transmitted diseases in the development of some types of cancer, condom use, avoiding the exchange of bodily fluids, and maintaining mutually monogamous sexual relationships are prudent preventive measures.

Avoid use of certain plastics. Use of certain plastics not approved for longterm storage of edible substances.