Preventing Cancer Across a Lifetime

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Experts are learning how cancer can be prevented at different ages.

There are many kinds of cancer, most caused by a combination of factors over time. These can include—

  • Genetic factors you get from your parents, such as certain genes related to breast cancer.
  • Environmental factors, such as sunlight, radon, or pollution.
  • Personal habits, such as smoking or drinking alcohol.
  • Workplace factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals.
  • The food you eat and medicines you take.

You can’t change some risk factors, such as your genes. But you can completely or partially avoid other risk factors—for example, by not smoking or quitting smoking, by not drinking or limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and by protecting your skin from the sun. Daily habits like these can make a difference over time in your overall health and your risk of developing cancer.

Some behaviors linked to cancer risk typically start during youth, making interventions focused on young people particularly important. For example, most smokers start during their preteen or teen years, so using antismoking interventions for youth can help keep kids from smoking and prevent many future cancers. However, it’s never too late to reap the benefits of healthy changes. Efforts to adopt healthy habits, avoid harmful exposures, and manage chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity can reduce a person’s cancer risk even when started at older ages.

A Lifetime Approach to Preventing Cancer

CDC scientists and other experts created the Cancer Prevention Across the Lifespan workgroup to explore ways to reduce cancer risk at different ages. This workgroup studies scientific literature and works with other experts to find opportunities at every age to reduce cancer risk.

Citation

Shoemaker ML, Holman DM, Henley SJ, White MC. News from CDC: applying a life course approach to primary cancer prevention.external icon Translational Behavioral Medicine 2015;5(2):131–133.

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Research suggests that we can take steps today to protect the health of babies and young children, and reduce their chances of getting cancer in the future.
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Youth go through many physical and social changes as they grow into adults. These changes create unique opportunities for cancer prevention.
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Early adulthood is a time of many life changes, such as leaving home, getting a full-time job, and becoming a parent, each with challenges and stresses. Research shows that people can do several things to lower their long-term cancer risk during this time of life.
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At this age, adults may experience the onset of chronic diseases or other health problems. During this time of unique life transitions and health challenges, adults can make positive changes to reduce their cancer risk and support health during midlife and beyond.
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Cancer is usually caused by many factors over time. This means that even later in life, there may be opportunities to prevent or delay the onset of new cancers.
Page last reviewed: September 1, 2021