Stay on top of cancer prevention

How to ward off cancer or catch it early

Stay on top of cancer prevention

No one likes to think about cancer. But being proactive about cancer prevention and early detection could be lifesaving, no matter your age. Here’s how to know the symptoms to watch for and precautionary actions to take.


You know your child best, so you may be the first to notice something unusual that might point to cancer.

Common cancers in kids

Type of cancer

Common symptoms

leukemia unexplained tiredness; easy bruising
brain persistent headaches; new seizures; dramatic personality change
lymphoma one or more swollen lymph nodes
bone leg pain or other bone pain that persists

Most childhood cancers aren’t due to lifestyle. But the habits you instill in kids may help prevent cancer when they’re adults.

Proactive actions

Keep regular checkups

Routine blood tests can show potential signs of some cancers, including leukemia.

Encourage physical activity

Exercise lowers cancer risk.

Teach sun safety

Use sunscreen and discourage indoor tanning.


Some cancer symptoms are vague, so it’s important to get checked if you feel that something is wrong.

Common cancers in adults

Type of cancer

Common symptoms

breast unexplained lump or swelling
prostate trouble urinating or increased urination frequency
colorectal persistent change in bowel habits; blood in stool
lung unexplained, prolonged cough

Proactive actions

Get checkups

Several screenings—including mammograms, prostate tests, and colonoscopies—are generally started between ages 40 and 50, depending on personal risk.

Maintain a healthy weight 

Excess body fat increases risk of many cancers.

Limit alcohol and avoid smoking

Both are known causes of cancer.


Many cancers common in middle-aged adults are even more common in older adults.

Other common cancers in older adults

Type of cancer

Common symptoms

leukemia significantly lower energy level over a period of a few months; frequent infections; swollen lymph nodes
skin change in appearance of a mole
bladder blood in urine; frequent and/or painful urination

Unexplained weight loss may also signal cancer, so consult a health care practitioner.

Proactive actions

Continue checkups

Decide with your doctor which cancer screenings are still right for you.

Check your skin regularly

A dermatologist can evaluate any concerns.

Monitor your weight 

Weigh yourself at least every month.

Anticancer eating 

There are so many wonderfully healthy foods to include in your diet, such as:

  • nonstarchy vegetables, especially green leafy and cruciferous ones such as kale and broccoli
  • whole fruit, particularly berries
  • mushrooms, such as reishi and maitake
  • oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, and herring
  • plant proteins, including beans, lentils, tofu, and edamame
  • whole grains, especially oats and barley
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • herbs and spices, such as turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and onions

Supplemental support

It’s important to ask your health care practitioner before taking a new supplement. One notable supplement that may help to reduce cancer risk is vitamin D. Other supplements being studied for potential anticancer or immune-supportive effects include berberine, curcumin, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), lycopene, mushroom extracts, and omega-3s.

Written by Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD