In this time of constant innovation -- where we're always looking over the horizon for the next major advance that will change the world -- it can be hard at times to remain excited about the things we've already discovered. And this seems particularly so when it comes to something like cancer. Yet, excited is just how we should feel when it comes to what we currently know about preventing cancer.
With the powerful evidence that we have right now -- today -- we could prevent 50 percent or more of all cancer in the United States and a large proportion of cancer globally. And these numbers are not based on obscure, complicated steps. In fact, many health guidelines currently support the basic messages that can cut our risk of cancer in half, and the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes even more.
To demonstrate the promise of cancer prevention today, let's celebrate some of what we know.
Rates of lung cancer -- the most common cancer in the United States -- have dropped by a third over the past 25 years -- all due to lower rates of smoking. Fewer adolescents are taking up smoking and more adults are quitting smoking. Drop in smoking rates lowers the risk of many other cancers as well.
Taking a daily aspirin for 20 or more years has been shown to cut the risk of colon cancer by almost half in both men and women. Those at high risk due to genetic predisposition, similarly benefit- perhaps in as few as 10 years of taking aspirin.
Screening for colorectal cancer with tests like colonoscopy and fecal occult blood tests (FOBT) lowers the risk both of developing cancer and dying from the disease.
Vaccination against hepatitis B significantly reduces the risk of liver cancer. This is a huge benefit in areas with high hepatitis infection rates, such Asia and Africa. But benefits extend to the United States, and other countries, as well.
Vaccination against HPV (human papilloma virus) reduces the risk of cervical cancer. Because this vaccine is relatively new, data on its cancer prevention benefits have yet to come out, but preliminary results suggests it is likely to have a major impact on future rates of cervical cancer in countries with good vaccination programs.
For women at high risk of breast cancer, the medications tamoxifen and raloxifene have been demonstrated to cut the risk of the disease in half.
In addition to these lifestyle and medical interventions, avoiding weight gain as an adult and being physically active also substantially reduce risk of many cancers. Add in a healthy diet -- rich with fruits vegetables and whole grains, and low in red meat and alcohol -- and studies show that overall cancer risk can be cut in half or more.
So - despite recent headlines to the contrary -- cancer is not largely due to bad luck. Lifestyle has a major role in risk and following a few simple healthy choices can greatly reduce your risk as well as the risk of those you love (see figure).
Future innovations will certainly help us reach beyond the potential for prevention that we know today, but we don't need to wait to have a major impact on rates of cancer. Cutting risk in half is a great place to start.
For easy tips on lowering your cancer risk, visit: the8ways.org.
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and LessCancer.org in recognition of World Cancer Day and National Cancer Prevention Day (both Feb. 4), and in conjunction with Less Cancer's program on Cancer Prevention in Washington, D.C. on 2/4/14. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about Lesscancer.org click here.