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Cancer

What's the Problem?

Cancer is the abnormal, continuous multiplication of cells. In adults, cells normally only replicate to replace dying cells. However, cancer cells replicate uncontrollably. The accumulation of these cancer cells may eventually result in lumps or tumors. Tumor cells can also spread to distant parts of the body, resulting in metastatic cancer.

Cancer is a significant public health problem. Each year, more than 1.6 million Americans develop some form of cancer. Due to ongoing research into cancer treatment and therapies, the outlook for Americans with cancer is always improving. Today, more than half of all cancer patients survive for 5 years or more. The American Cancer Society estimates that 25% to 30% more cancer deaths could be prevented each year with earlier diagnosis and treatment.

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Who's at Risk?

Cancer is second only to heart disease as a leading cause of death in the U.S. It is the primary cause of death in women from the ages of 35 to 74. Cancer is also a leading cause of death in children under the age of 15. With Americans making lifestyle changes that improve their cardiovascular health, cancer is expected to become the leading cause of death in this country by the year 2010.

Can It Be Prevented?

Many types of cancer can be prevented by: not using tobacco products, protecting against harmful sun exposure, and eating foods low in fat and high in fiber. Exposure to alcohol, chemicals, and radiation may also affect a person's likelihood of developing cancer. Not all risk factors can be avoided. Some risk factors are inherited. It is helpful to be aware of a genetic predisposition to a disease, but it's important to remember that not all people with a particular risk factor will develop the disease—many will not. People with known inherited risk factors can help protect themselves by getting regular checkups so that if cancer does develop, it can be diagnosed early, increasing the chances for a good outcome.

The Bottom Line

  • Cancer is a leading cause of death in this country;
  • cancer risk generally increases with age but it also affects significant numbers of children under age 15;
  • there are known risk factors that may be avoided to help prevent cancer;
  • there are inherited risk factors for some cancer; however, having a genetic predisposition does not mean that you will develop cancer; and
  • effective screening and treatment methods are allowing people who develop cancer to live longer lives.
  • Page last reviewed: February 8, 2011
  • Page last updated: February 8, 2011
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