While doctors have an idea of what may increase your risk of cancer, the majority of cancers occur in people who don't have any known risk factors. Factors known to increase your risk of cancer include:
Cancer can take decades to develop. That's why most people diagnosed with cancer are 65 or older. While it's more common in older adults, cancer isn't exclusively an adult disease — cancer can be diagnosed at any age.
Certain lifestyle choices are known to increase your risk of cancer. Smoking, drinking more than one drink a day (for women of all ages and everyone older than age 65) or two drinks a day (for men age 65 and younger), excessive exposure to the sun or frequent blistering sunburns, being obese, and having unsafe sex can contribute to cancer.
You can change these habits to lower your risk of cancer — though some habits are easier to change than others.
Your family history
Only a small portion of cancers are due to an inherited condition. If cancer is common in your family, it's possible that mutations are being passed from one generation to the next. You might be a candidate for genetic testing to see whether you have inherited mutations that might increase your risk of certain cancers. Keep in mind that having an inherited genetic mutation doesn't necessarily mean you'll get cancer.
Your health conditions
Some chronic health conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, can markedly increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Talk to your doctor about your risk.
The environment around you may contain harmful chemicals that can increase your risk of cancer. Even if you don't smoke, you might inhale secondhand smoke if you go where people are smoking or you live with someone who smokes. Chemicals in your home or workplace, such as asbestos and benzene, also are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Jan. 02, 2014
- Deaths and mortality. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Cancer: All sites. Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results. http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/all.html. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- What you need to know about cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/cancer. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Kushi LH, et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: Reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2012;62:30.
- Niederhuber JE, et al. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Ulcerative colitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/colitis/index.htm. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- NINDS paraneoplastic syndromes information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/paraneoplastic/paraneoplastic.htm. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Deng GE, et al. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for integrative oncology: Complementary therapies and botanicals. Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology. 2009;7:85.
- Taking time: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/takingtime. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Moynihan TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 3, 2013.
- Hypercalcemia. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/hypercalcemia/Patient. Accessed Oct. 11, 2013.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.