Theodore Brasky, PhD, gives an annual talk to all the first-year medical school students at The Ohio State University. The topic is cancer epidemiology &mdash; the study of the distribution and causes of cancer &mdash; and includes a plain, but powerful, message: the fight against cancer begins before diagnosis. &ldquo;One of the most important ways to beat cancer is to prevent it from happening in the first place,&rdquo; said Brasky, a research assistant professor and member of the nationally-recognized Cancer Control Program of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center &ndash; James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC &ndash; James). It&rsquo;s an important lesson &mdash; and not only for medical students. February is National Cancer Prevention Month, so let&rsquo;s sit in on Brasky&rsquo;s class and learn some important and life-prolonging lessons. No need to take notes &mdash; we&rsquo;ll do it for you. Don't Smoke Brasky&rsquo;s primary prevention tactic takes aim at one of the most well-known cancer-causing culprits: smoking. &ldquo;Smoking is responsible for one in five deaths in the United States. It causes lung cancer, but also cancers of the bladder, head and neck, as well as other sites; not to mention its relationship with other chronic diseases like COPD and heart disease.&rdquo; Those risks increase over time, but shouldn&rsquo;t deter smokers from kicking the habit. &ldquo;Quitting smoking at any time decreases one&rsquo;s risk,&rdquo; Brasky said. &ldquo;Unfortunately, the risk remains higher, and it will never go back down to the level of a never-smoker, but it is a substantial drop.&rdquo; Rethinking Your Drinking &ldquo;Alcohol is a carcinogen, and high levels of drinking are related to several types of cancer, such as esophageal cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic and colon cancer, and breast cancer in women,&rdquo; Brasky said. &nbsp;The key, as is often said, could be moderation. &ldquo;[Drinking in moderation] can have heart-health benefits for some people, and heart health is a major component of overall physical health.&rdquo; Consider a Menu Makeover A healthy diet is a great way to reduce your cancer risk, so Brasky recommends lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains and fiber. &ldquo;[A healthy diet] should be low in meat overall, and red meat in particular,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Red meat and processed meats are associated with increased colorectal cancer risk, while fiber reduces cancer risk.&rdquo; Get Moving Obesity increases the risk of several types of cancer, so along with a healthy diet, exercise can be a core part of a successful prevention plan. Fortunately, you have almost unlimited options when you&rsquo;re motivated to get moving, with cardiovascular exercises &mdash; walking, running, swimming and many others &mdash; helping you burn calories through cancer-fighting fun. Brasky takes to two wheels to stay active, commuting to work by bike twice a week. Stay Safe in the Sun (and Avoid Tanning Beds) Too much exposure to the sun &mdash; and the harmful ultraviolet rays it emits &mdash; is a major cause of melanoma, a very serious type of skin cancer. So rub on the sunblock and reapply often. &ldquo;This is important for everyone, but especially for children,&rdquo; Brasky said. &ldquo;Severe burns at a young age greatly increase the risk of melanoma later in life.&rdquo; The use of tanning beds is another risk factor, according to Brasky. &ldquo;They emit a large dose of UV &mdash; several times the level of the midday summer sun &mdash; and can lead to a two-fold increase in the risk for melanoma, with further increases in risk with repeated exposure.&rdquo; Watch Out for Workplace Risks Some occupations come with higher cancer risks, often because of long-term exposure to carcinogens. &ldquo;It could be exposure to asbestos or a solvent that&rsquo;s inhaled, or in an agricultural setting, exposure to certain pesticides,&rdquo; said Brasky, who urged workers in these types of environments to wear protective clothing and masks. &ldquo;Another work issue is sitting at a desk all day,&rdquo; Brasky said. &ldquo;A sedentary lifestyle leads to several health issues.&rdquo; Vaccinate, Protect to Prevent Cancers The human papillomaviruses (HPV) is the major cause of cervical, oral and anal cancers&nbsp;&mdash; Brasky strongly recommends that parents have their teenage children inoculated with the HPV vaccination &mdash; but it isn&rsquo;t the only sexually-transmitted disease linked to cancer. Safe sex practices, combined with vaccination, may prevent STDs that can start alarming chain reactions inside the body. &ldquo;People who are positive for HIV, or who have certain forms of viral hepatitis, also [face] increased cancer risk,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;HIV compromises the immune system, which makes someone more vulnerable to cancer, and hepatitis C is associated with liver cancer.&rdquo; Become a Family Health Historian About 5 to 10 percent of all cancers are caused by inherited genetic mutations, but to get a good handle on your relatives&rsquo; risk, you&rsquo;ll need to do a deep dive into your family&rsquo;s health history. &ldquo;The term &lsquo;family history&rsquo; can get complicated, as most, if not all, families have had someone with a cancer diagnosis,&rdquo; Brasky said. Therefore, cancer in the family does not necessarily indicate an inherited genetic mutation, such as the BRCA breast-cancer gene or one of several genes related to the Lynch Syndrome gene, which causes colon and other types of cancer. &ldquo;What you want to look for is if your family has had several people diagnosed at an early age with cancer, and if there are an abnormal number of first-degree relatives with the same or similar types of cancer,&rdquo; Brasky said. If that&rsquo;s the case, he recommends talking to a physician about your family&rsquo;s health history and the possibility of genetic counseling services like those provided at The OSUCCC &ndash; James, home to one of the largest and best programs in the country. Don&rsquo;t Overthink It It may seem like a lot, but cutting your cancer risk can be summed up simply: lead as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Eat well, exercise, limit alcohol and sunlight exposure, protect against STDs and stop &mdash; or better yet, never start &mdash; smoking. Finally, the doctor recommends the addition of a healthy dose of diligence to get the most out of his prevention prescription. &ldquo;You need to think about this all year,&rdquo; Brasky said. &ldquo;The goal is to live long and have a high-quality of life.