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Preventing Cancer From Developing

In this section you will learn:

More than half of U.S. cancer deaths are a result of preventable causes.

Not using tobacco is the single best way a person can prevent cancer from developing.

Up to one-third of all new cancer diagnoses in the United States are related to being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, and/or poor dietary habits.

Many cases of skin cancer could be prevented by protecting the skin from ultraviolet radiation from the sun and indoor tanning devices.

Infection with many known cancer-causing pathogens can be prevented by vaccination or managed by treatment.

Developing a personalized cancer prevention and early detection plan with your health care practitioners can help prevent cancer before it starts or intercept it early in its development, when it can be more easily and successfully treated.


Factors that increase th​e chance that a cell will acquire a genetic mutation consequently increase the chance that a cell will become cancerous and are referred to as cancer risk factors (see sidebar on Why Me? Why This Cancer?). Decades of research have led to the identification of many cancer risk factors (see Figure 8​), which, in turn, has taught us that many cases of cancer are preventable (34). 

In the United States, many of the greatest reductions in cancer morbidity and mortality have been achieved by translating discoveries of cancer risk factors into effective new public education and policy initiatives. For example, major public education and policy initiatives to combat cigarette smoking have been credited with preventing eight million premature deaths from 1964 to 2014 (35) (see Figure 9​), and policy initiatives that minimize exposure to other cancer risk factors, such as asbestos and pollutants, have also played a role.

Policies, whether implemented by schools, workplaces, businesses, or government—local, state, or federal—work by helping to create environments that allow individuals to more easily adopt a lifestyle that promotes cancer prevention. Thus, it is imperative that everyone work together to develop and implement new, more effective public education and policy initiatives to help reduce the burden of cancer further, in particular the burden from those cancers related to preventable causes.

In addition, a great deal more research and more resources are needed to understand why some individuals are refractory to public education and policy initiatives and how best to help these individuals eliminate or reduce their risk of some cancers.