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 or getting older. But you can completely or partially avoid other 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. It is easier, when possible, to prevent cancer than to treat it.

Some cancer risk factors can be linked closely to a person’s age. For example, most people start smoking during their preteen or teen years, so using antismoking interventions that target youth can help keep kids from smoking, and prevent many future cancers. While you can’t avoid getting older, some cancers appear later in life because of actions taken or exposures over many years. For example, the less alcohol you drink over your lifetime, the lower your risk of getting certain types of cancer.

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.


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.