How to Reduce the Risk of Cancer

Many things impact our risk of getting cancer including the environment around us, our lifestyle factors and our genes. You cannot change your genes, but you can change some things in your life to lower your chances of getting certain cancers. You can quit smoking, get the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination and the hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccination, eat healthy foods including green leafy vegetables, reduce consumption of alcohol, and get regular exercise.

Read more below about the specific ways to lower your chances of getting cancer.

Tobacco Cessation

Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. In addition to cigarette and cigar smoking, there are alternative tobacco products that may also increase your risk of cancer. These alternative tobacco products include hookah tobacco, nicotine gels, pipe tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco, smokeless tobacco like dip, snuff, snus and chewing tobacco as well as newer products such as vaporizers and e-cigarettes.

Tobacco harms nearly every organ in your body. It causes 90% of all lung cancer deaths and increases your chances of getting other types of cancer like cancers of the throat, mouth, stomach, pancreas, bladder, and cervix. Tobacco use can also cause many other health problems including other lung diseases and heart disease. Being around secondhand smoke can be as harmful as smoking tobacco and can increase the risk of getting cancer and heart disease.
For those who have had cancer, continuing to smoke can increase the risk of your cancer coming back or getting a new cancer. Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of getting cancer.

How to Quit

  • Most smokers are addicted to nicotine, the drug found naturally in tobacco.
  • Quitting is hard and you may need to make several attempts before you quit for good.
  • Nicotine replacement products and non-nicotine medications can be used to help people to quit smoking. 

Speaking with a counselor one-on-one, in a group, or over the telephone can also be helpful when trying to quit smoking.  

Learn more about tobacco cessation services at the HICCC (LINK) or at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. You can also call 1-800-784-8669 (1-800-QUIT-NOW).

Visit the NYC No Tobacco Week homepage for more information and resources about quitting smoking.

Vaccination: Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is the most common transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 150 types of HPV. About 1 in 4 people in the United States are currently infected with HPV, and about 14 million people, including teenagers, become infected each year.

Some HPV types cause genital warts; other HPV types (16 and 18) cause cancer of the cervix, anus, mouth/throat, penis, vulva, and vagina.

The HPV vaccine can prevent many HPV-related cancers in both men and women. Although not everyone who is infected with HPV will get cancer, vaccination at an early age can prevent most HPV cancers from ever developing later in life. Ideally, the vaccine should be given before sexually activity begins.


  • HPV vaccine is recommended for routine vaccination at age 11 or 12 years but vaccination can be started at age 9.
  • Vaccination is also recommended for females aged 13 through 26 years and males aged 13 through 21 years who were not adequately vaccinated previously.
  • Vaccination is also recommended through age 26 years for gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, and for immunocompromised persons (including those with HIV infection) not adequately vaccinated previously
  • Women who have been vaccinated for HPV should continue to get Pap smears, a highly effective way to screen for cervical cancer.

Talk to your child’s doctor or your doctor about getting vaccinated. Some pharmacies offer certain vaccinations. Check with your local pharmacy.

Vaccination: Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)

Hepatitis B is a virus that can infect and scar your liver. The Hepatitis B virus can be passed from person to person in blood, semen, and other body fluids through sexual contact, sharing needles, or from mother to baby at birth.  For some people, infection with Hepatitis B can be a short-term illness.  For others, the infection can become long-term or chronic.  Chronic infection with Hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer, liver failure, or death.

The Hepatitis B vaccination is the best way to prevent Hepatitis B infection, and it is recommended for most people.  


The CDC recommends the Hepatitis B vaccination for all newborn babies.   Children who are not vaccinated in infancy, under 19 years of age should receive a ‘catch-up’ vaccine.  Adults who have not had the vaccine but may be at risk for Hepatitis B infection through sexual practices and other sources of exposure should also be vaccinated.

Talk to your child’s doctor or your doctor about getting vaccinated.  Some pharmacies offer certain vaccinations. Check with your local pharmacy.

Healthy Weight

Obesity is not just about how you look, it is a medical problem that is associated with many health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and a variety of cancers including breast, colon, rectum, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, and gallbladder. Studies also show that obesity worsens cancer survival and quality of life.

Obesity is measured by calculating your body mass index (BMI) using your height and your weight measurement.  The CDC defines obesity as having a BMI greater than or equal to 30.  You can calculate your own BMI here.

Weight loss can improve or prevent health problems associated with obesity.  Changes to your diet, increasing your physical activity, and limiting alcohol use can all help to lose weight.


A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of different types of vegetables including dark leafy greens, red and orange vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), and starchy vegetables like potatoes, and others
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils such as olive oil and canola oil

A healthy eating pattern calls for limiting the following from your diet:

  • Saturated fats (like butter, cheese, fatty meats, chicken skin) and trans fats found in cookies, doughnuts, pie and cake
  • Added sugars found in desserts, juice, and soda
  • Salt (sodium) found in many processed and fast foods
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

Exercise/Physical Activity

Little or no physical activity (exercise) is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and endometrial (lining of the uterus) cancer.  It contributes to heart disease and type II diabetes. 

Growing evidence supports that physical activity, even when not related to weight changes, still reduces cancer risk and improves outcomes after cancer diagnosis. 


All adults benefit from sitting less and moving more throughout the day.  Even small amounts of physical activity are better than none at all. 

For great health benefits, adults should:

  • Do 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week.  Examples of moderate intensity activities include walking briskly, heavy household cleaning like mopping or vacuuming, mowing the lawn or bicycling.
  • Or do 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity like hiking, shoveling snow, carrying heavy loads or playing basketball, soccer or tennis each week.
  • Also, do muscle strengthening exercises at least twice per week.

Talk to your doctor about the amount and type of physical activity that is best for you.


Alcohol can be found in beverages such as beer, ciders, wine, and liquors.  Consuming alcohol is known to cause cancer. The longer a person drinks regularly throughout their lifetime, the higher their risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer.

The cancers that have been linked to alcohol consumption include head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.


In the United States, a “standard drink” is a drink with 14 grams of pure alcohol. This amount of alcohol can typically be found in 12 ounces of beer, 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or a shot of 80-proof liquor. In general, it is recommended that individuals do not drink, but for those who choose to consume alcohol, drinking should be done in moderation. Moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men. This is in contrast to heavy drinking (4 or more drinks on any day or 8 or more drinks per week for women, 5 or more on any day or 15 or more per week for men) and binge drinking (4 or more drinks in one sitting for women, 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting).

The best way to avoid the risks of cancer due to alcohol is to not drink. If you choose to drink alcohol, minimizing alcohol consumption can help to reduce the impacts of alcohol on cancer risk.  Separate from overall alcohol intake, binge drinking has been associated with a number of cancers so it is important to minimize the number of drinks in a single setting.