Cancer can be caused by a variety of factors and may develop over a number of years. Some risk factors can be controlled. Choosing the right health behaviors and preventing exposure to certain environmental risk factors can help prevent the development of cancer. For this reason, it is important to follow national trends data to monitor the reduction of these risk factors. This section focuses on national trends data from four major groups of risk factors: behavioral, environmental, policy/regulatory, and genetic testing.
Smoking, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity are just some of the human behaviors that have been linked to the development of many common cancers. This section describes trends in the following behaviors, which can influence the likelihood of getting cancer.
Smoking causes at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. Avoiding tobacco use is the single most important step Americans can take to reduce the cancer burden in this country.
Tobacco use can lead to nicotine dependence and serious health problems. Quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing smoking-related diseases, including cancer.
Diet, Physical Activity, and Weight
Considerable evidence indicates that maintaining a healthy lifestyle has the potential to reduce cancer-related morbidity. Up to one-third of cancer cases in the United States are related to poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and/or excess body weight or obesity, and thus could be prevented.
UV Exposure and Sun-Protective Behavior
Reducing unprotected exposure to the sun and avoiding artificial ultraviolet (UV) light from indoor tanning beds, tanning booths, and sun lamps can lower the risk of skin cancer.
A number of cancers that affect men and women can be prevented through vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) and effective screening. HPV can cause cancers of the penis, in men; of the cervix, vagina and vulva, in women; and in the anus and back of the throat, for women and men.
Genetic test results can help guide a person's future medical care as specific genetic mutations may increase a person’s chance of developing cancer.
Tobacco Policy/Regulatory Factors
Effective policy and regulation are necessary to reduce the burden of cancer on the country. Federal law restricts the time, manner, and place of tobacco advertising and promotions because they are known to increase Americans’ tobacco use. Federal law also requires state Medicaid programs to make tobacco cessation services available to pregnant women, but an expansion of coverage is needed to make these services available to more people.
Certain chemicals, biological agents, toxins, and other environmental factors are associated with the development of cancer. This section reports national trends data associated with environmental exposures and their relationship to cancer. The environmental measures highlighted here were chosen based on the availability of national trends data and, in some cases, the measures’ inclusion in Healthy People 2020.
Secondhand smoke continues to be a leading environmental hazard. Conclusive scientific evidence shows that secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease, including cancer, in children and adults who do not smoke.
Chemical and Environmental Exposures
Exposure to carcinogens that exist as pollutants in our air, food, water, and soil, also influence the incidence of cancer. Most exposure to toxic substances and hazardous wastes results from human activities, particularly through agricultural and industrial production. Chemicals were selected for inclusion in this report based on the following set of criteria: (1) likely or probable carcinogen as classified by IARC classification (Group 1 or 2A), (2) available biomarker data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) since 2004, and (3) ubiquitous (i.e. >50% with detectable levels) in the U.S. general population (based on NHANES data).
Tobacco, physical activity, diet, sun, environment, HPV immunization