Cancers Associated with Modifiable Risk Factors

Cancer is caused by both internal factors—including genetics, hormones, and immune conditions—and external factors, such as tobacco use, excess body weight, infectious agents, excess alcohol consumption, chemicals, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These causal factors may act together to initiate the development of cancer. Ten or more years often pass between exposure to external factors and detectable cancer.

Many external risk factors are modifiable through lifestyle changes. The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that a portion of cancers could be avoided, including those caused by smoking and those attributable to a combination of excess alcohol consumption, poor diet, excess body weight, and physical inactivity. Certain cancers are caused by infectious agents, including viruses and bacteria, which could be prevented through treatment of the infection, behavioral changes, or vaccination. 

TCR examined cancers associated with the following modifiable risk factors: alcohol consumption, human papillomaviruses (HPV) infection, overweight/obesity, and tobacco use. Note that correlations between individual-level alcohol consumption, HPV infection, weight, and tobacco use and cancer risk were not assessed.

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