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.


Tobacco Use

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.

Smoking Cessation

Tobacco use can lead to nicotine dependence and serious health problems. Quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing smoking-related diseases, including cancer.

Tobacco Policy/Regulatory Factors

Effective tobacco control policy and tobacco product regulation are necessary to reduce the burden of cancer on the U.S. Federal law regulates advertising, marketing, manufacturing, and distribution of tobacco products. Moreover, Federal and state laws determine coverage of tobacco dependence treatment under individual state Medicaid programs.

Secondhand Smoke

Conclusive scientific evidence shows that secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and adults who do not smoke, including lung cancer in adults. Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces protects nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Diet and Alcohol

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.

Physical Activity

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has the potential to reduce both cancer- and non-cancer-related morbidity. In particular, physical activity may reduce the risk of several types of cancer, including bladder, breast, colon, endometrium (lining of the uterus), esophagus (adenocarcinoma), kidney, and stomach. Physical activity may lower a person’s risk of health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis (bone thinning). Being active may help to prevent weight gain and obesity, which can reduce the risk of developing cancers that have been linked to excess body weight.


Consistent evidence indicates that preventing excess body weight and obesity reduces the risk of several types of cancer, including colorectal, breast (among women who have gone through menopause), uterine, esophageal, renal cell (kidney), liver, and pancreatic cancers.


Sleep health – including sleep duration, efficiency, and quality, as well as sleep timing and regularity – is important to overall health. Poor sleep may directly affect mortality risk and influence risk for cancer and other non-communicable diseases through its impact on immune function, stress response and inflammation, DNA repair, and metabolic and hormonal activity. It may also impact mortality through its effect on modifiable risk factors, including physical activity, diet, alcohol, and tobacco use.

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.

HPV Vaccination

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 Testing

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.

Chemical and Environmental Exposures

Exposure to carcinogens that exist as pollutants in our air, food, water, and soil also influences 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).

Home description: 

Tobacco, physical activity, diet, sun, environment, HPV immunization