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Preventing Cancer Across a Lifetime

Photo of a familyThere 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 a change in your breast cancer genes.
  • 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 learn how cancer can be prevented at different ages. This workgroup studies scientific literature and works with other cancer experts to find ways to prevent cancer related to each period in your lifetime, from before birth through old age.


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