Learning About New Ways to Prevent Cancer

Only ways to look at information on methods that are said to prevent cancer are addressed here, but some of the same principles can be used when looking at information on cancer treatment, symptom management, and other aspects of cancer detection and care. For more on learning about cancer treatments, see Evaluating New Cancer Treatments.

Can cancer be prevented?

Sometimes cancer can be prevented. Looking at the whole country, it’s quite possible that more than half of cancer deaths could be prevented – if everyone avoided tobacco, controlled their weight, got enough physical exercise, and took other steps to improve their health. Of course, that’s a big “if.”

There’s no guaranteed way to prevent cancer.

So far, nothing has been found that’s proven to prevent every cancer. Right now we know there are ways to help prevent many cancers in large groups of people. And there are things you can do that might help reduce your personal chance of getting cancer. (See Appendix A at the end for the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for reducing cancer risk.) But, as of today, even the best methods to try to reduce your cancer risk (called cancer risk reduction) cannot prevent all cancers.

Because certain methods and drugs can help prevent some cancers in large groups of people, we will still use the term cancer prevention here.

Early detection can help save lives

If cancer does develop, there are early detection tests that can improve the odds that some types of cancer will be found at an early stage (when they’re small and easier to treat). To read about proven methods to find cancer before it causes symptoms, see our American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer.

Although early detection alone rarely prevents cancer, it can often prevent cancer deaths.

When you hear about something new to prevent cancer

You’ve just heard about something new that might possibly reduce your risk of cancer, something you haven’t heard about before. If you’re worried about getting cancer, you may wonder if this might work for you. Even though your doctor might not have mentioned it, you want to find out more about this. You want every possible chance of never getting cancer.

But before you put your money, time, and energy on the line, you need to know more about the new prevention method so you can decide if it’s worth it.. At this point, you probably don’t know if it will actually reduce your risk of cancer, or if it could even harm you. Here are some of the things you may hear about:

FDA-approved drugs: The new method may be a medicine or vaccine that your doctor recommends to reduce your cancer risk. It’s pretty easy to find out more about FDA-approved drugs and vaccines, since there are many trustworthy sources and careful scientific studies involved. We can help you find out more, and there are others who can help, too. (See To learn more at the end of this document.)

Methods being studied for FDA approval: Maybe the method you heard about hasn’t been approved, but is “in the pipeline” to become a mainstream cancer prevention method in the future. It may be a pill, a treatment, or something else. It’s usually not too hard to find information about these kinds of treatments. If the treatment has ever been approved by the FDA for any medical use, you can usually find good information on risks and side effects. But it may be harder to find out about how well it works for cancer prevention.

Non-prescription herbs, supplements, diets, and special treatments: Other methods you hear about may be herbs, vitamins, other dietary supplements, health tonics, “body cleansings,” or special diets that are supposed to boost the immune system, among many other things. In the past, almost no studies were done to look at these methods, but researchers are now trying to study more of them in the same careful ways that they study other methods.

Lifestyle changes: You may hear about other things you can do that can help reduce your cancer risk. For instance, quitting tobacco, eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise, cutting back on alcohol and red meats, and staying at a healthy weight have all been given more attention lately. Studies on some of these are fairly easy to find.

Whatever method you’re thinking about, take the time to see what you can learn about it from sources you trust. Here we will give you some ideas to help you when you’re searching for more information.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: May 21, 2015

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