Understanding cancer risks

Certain factors are within your control.


You can’t change your age or family history, but other cancer risk factors are within your control. Let’s look at some risk factors that may be in your power to control.



Smoking causes almost one-third of all U.S. cancer deaths. Cigarettes are full of cancer-causing ingredients. Smokers are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from it than non-smokers. And tobacco can cause cancers almost anywhere in the body.

Nutrition and exercise

Experts believe many cancers can be traced to poor nutrition, lack of exercise and being overweight. Increasing physical activity can help reduce or control weight. It may also lower your risk for some cancers and other chronic diseases.



Many studies have linked regular drinking of alcohol with various forms of cancer. If you choose to drink, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises moderation.

Preventive screenings

Screenings are tests that check for the presence of a disease. Early detection is key. 


Radiation comes from many sources, like medical X-rays. But don’t overlook radon gas that can be found in many homes. Exposure to radon has been linked to lung cancer. Experts recommend testing your home for radon and making repairs if it is detected.

Environmental exposure

Doctors have linked certain things in the environment to cancer. For instance, working around asbestos raises your risk of lung cancer. Minimize your exposure to these substances.

Genetic testing

The risk of getting some types of cancer can be inherited. It is passed along from one or both parents. Genetic testing can reveal whether you carry certain abnormal genes that put you at a higher risk of cancer.


Some viruses and infections have been linked to cancer. Vaccines have been created to guard against a few of these. The vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) helps prevent some cervical and related cancers. The vaccine for hepatitis B can cut the risk for liver cancer.

Take control 

Can you identify some areas of your lifestyle where you could take steps to lower your cancer risk? Maybe it’s getting more exercise or modifying your diet. Talk with your doctor about how you might change some of your habits for a healthier life.


  • National Cancer Institute
  • Health.gov
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.