Cancer Prevention

Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer. By preventing cancer, the number of new cases of cancer in a group or population is lowered. Hopefully, this will lower the number of deaths caused by cancer. Cancer is not a single disease but a group of related diseases. Many things in our genes, our lifestyle, and the environment around us may increase or decrease our risk of getting cancer.

Scientists are studying many different ways to help prevent cancer, including the following:

  • Ways to avoid or control things known to cause cancer.
  • Changes in diet and lifestyle.
  • Finding precancerous conditions early. Precancerous conditions are conditions that may become cancer.
  • Chemoprevention (medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting)1.

Cancer can be caused by a variety of different 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 three major groups of risk factors: Behavioral, Environmental, and Policy/regulatory.

Behavioral Factors

Scientists estimate that as many as 50–75 percent of cancer deaths in the United States are caused by human behaviors such as smoking, poor diet quality, and physical inactivity. This section describes trends in the following behaviors that can influence the likelihood of getting cancer2.

Environmental Factors

Certain chemicals, biological agents, toxins, industry factors, etc., are associated with the development of cancer. In this section, national trends data associated with environmental exposures and their relationship to cancer are reported. The environmental measures highlighted in this report were chosen based on the availability of national trends data and their inclusion in the Healthy People 2010 Report.

Secondhand Smoke

NCI reports that Secondhand smoke (also known as environmental tobacco smoke) continues to be a leading environmental hazard. An expanded chapter on Secondhand smoke is presented in this year’s report update.

Chemical Exposures

According to the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2007 Update, pesticides and dioxins were reported in the. Both exposures again appear in this update, with a special focus on dioxins for which new data have been presented.

Policy/Regulatory Factors

Tobacco advertising and promotion increases Americans’ tobacco use2.


Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's PDQ Database:

1: (Accessed July 2016)

2: (Accessed July 2016)


Other Resources: Prevent Cancer Foundation

                               Think about the Link: Prevent Cancer Foundation 

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