Cancer is a group of diseases in which abnormal cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is not just one disease but many different diseases. Cancer is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, second only to heart disease as the leading cause of death.
Cancer and the Environment
Cancer is a disease with many risk factors; those factors can affect the illness in ways that are not fully understood. Most cancers take a long time to develop. Studies have documented that it may take as long as 40 years for some cancers to develop after exposure to some substances, depending on the type of cancer. Through surveillance and tracking, scientists have shown trends in cancer that sometimes correlate with the presence of certain environmental pollutants. This correlation does not rule out other causes but does suggest that environmental factors may increase the risk for particular cancers.
Exposure and Risk
Major risk factors for cancer include tobacco use, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and sun exposure. Genetic factors also appear to play a role in some types of cancer. However, the cause or origin of many cancer types is unknown and is likely determined by the combined effects of multiple factors.
Although environmental pollution has been a source of great public concern for decades, few community-level environmental exposures have been well studied. The cancer risks associated with many environmental chemicals have been identified through studies of workers who have had higher occupational exposures to these chemicals than the general public. The evidence is building to support a link between cancer and exposures to certain environmental pollutants.
Reduce Your Risk
Some environmental exposure is potentially avoidable. For example, some risk factors, such as smoking, are alterable. Other factors, such as a person's age, race, or genetics are predetermined. Having a risk factor does not mean that cancer will develop and many people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors. Making lifestyle choices and taking precautions at home and in the workplace to reduce potentially harmful exposures can help prevent cancer. To reduce risks, people are advised to:
- Discuss colon cancer screening with your doctor
- Discuss other specific recommendations, particularly if a history of cancer exists in your family
- Eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruits or vegetables a day
- Exercise at least 5 times per week
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Men: get yearly physical exams and examine testes, as recommended by your doctor
- Not smoke, dip, or chew tobacco
- Protect against sun exposure and avoid getting sunburned
- Reduce fat consumption
- Women: examine breasts monthly and get regular breast examinations, mammograms, and Pap smears
The EPHT Program tracks the following types of cancer:
- Bladder cancer
- Brain and nervous system cancer
- Breast cancer
- Lung and bronchus cancer
- Leukemia (chronic lymphocytic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia)
- Leukemia in children (acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia)
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Thyroid cancer
For more information about cancer data for environmental public health tracking.
For more information about cancer visit:
- Cancer Clusters
- Cancer Prevention and Control
- National Program of Cancer Registries
- State Cancer Profiles
- American Cancer Society
- Healthy People 2010: Cancer
- National Cancer Institute
- Additional information about known and probable carcinogens
Cancer Surveillance Programs