Cancer can occur in many individuals for no clear reason.

Some people who have lived healthy lives and never smoked can have lung cancer. Others will never receive a diagnosis. The good news is there are some lifestyle factors that can lower your risk of cancer.

1. Quit smoking

Period. Tobacco use in any form (cigarette, cigar, smokeless/chewing tobacco) is the number one cause of cancer in the world including cancers of the lung, kidney, head and neck, esophagus, bladder, pancreas and colon. Quitting is TOUGH. Most people are not able to quit on the first try. Please don’t be discouraged. Here are some tips for you:

  • Set a quit date.
  • Call the free telephone quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW for further advice and strategies.
  • Note that while some people have turned to e-cigarettes as an aid in quitting, their long term safety is still unknown.
  • If you are a smoker, consider lung cancer screening. Individuals between the age of 55-74 years old who have smoked a pack per day for over thirty years are at increased risk of lung cancer and may benefit from a CT scan lung cancer screening. These screening scans may find a lung cancer at an early, curable stage. For more information on lung cancer screening or smoking cessation call 844-401-5864 (LUNG) or visit this link.

2. Lose weight

Thirty percent of Americans are obese. And here’s something you might not know -- obesity is a major cause of cancer in the U.S.! Obesity is related to cancers of the esophagus from reflux disease, breast and uterus cancer from changes in hormone levels, and colon, rectal, pancreatic, kidney and liver cancer. Learn more about the link between obesity and cancer.

3. Review family history

If you have a family history of many cancers diagnosed at a young age, in general below the age of fifty (the age may vary by cancer diagnosis), in parents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents, your family may carry the risk of a cancer gene. About five to ten percent of all cancers are from inherited cancer genes. Genetic counseling may provide the opportunity for genetic testing. This may lead to cancer screening at a younger age or an option of surgery to prevent a cancer from developing.

Your primary care provider can talk with you about a consultation with a genetic counselor. And our partner Rhode Island Hospital has genetic counseling appointments available in its Comprehensive Cancer Center. Visit this link for more about genetics related to cancer and our genetics program.

4. Limit sun exposure and sunburns

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common cancer? But you can PREVENT it with regular use of sunblock (SPF 30) and by covering up!

5. Get moving

Physical activity can reduce the risk of many cancers including breast and colon cancer! You should strive for thirty minutes a day, five days a week. That can help you reduce your risk of cancer. It may seem random, but you have more control than you might think to lower your risk.


Mary Ann Fenton, MD

Mary Ann Fenton, MD, FACP is a clinical associate professor at Brown University School of Medicine. Dr. Fenton is an oncologist in the Lifespan Cancer Institute. Her specialty area is the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

Lifespan Cancer Institute