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) estimates that at least 42% of cancers could be avoided, including 19% that are caused by smoking and 18% that are 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. 


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