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Using Science to Prevent Cancer

Photo of a group of researchers

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than half a million Americans every year.1 CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control researches better ways to prevent cancer and support people with cancer.

Recent publications including findings on liver cancer, tobacco-related cancers, the potential impact of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine on cancers in the United States, and prevention of cancer starting before birth.

Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer2

Every year since 1998, CDC, the American Cancer Society, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, and the National Cancer Institute have published this report. It provides an update of rates of cancer incidence (new cases) and deaths, and discusses whether these rates are changing. The most recent report, published in March 2016, shows that death rates from all cancers combined continued to go down for men, women, and children in the United States.

The report also includes an in-depth analysis of a specific cancer topic; this year it was liver cancer. Despite the overall decrease in cancer in the United States, the incidence and death rates for liver cancer are increasing. A few key findings include—

  • In all racial and ethnic groups, men were about twice as likely to get liver cancer as women.
  • From 2008 to 2012, the incidence of liver cancer was highest among non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native men, followed by non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander men.
  • Death rates associated with hepatitis C (a risk factor for liver cancer) and liver cancer were highest among people born from 1945 to 1965. People born in these years also make up the majority of Americans with hepatitis C infection.

Vital Signs: Cancer and Tobacco Use3

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of cancer and cancer deaths, causing at least 12 types of cancer. This report highlights how states and communities can use comprehensive programs to reduce tobacco use and cancer by creating tobacco-free environments, increasing access to cancer screening and appropriate care, and helping tobacco users quit. These strategies have been shown to work and have avoided about 1.3 million tobacco-related cancer deaths since 1990.

Research Nominated for the Charles C. Shepard Science Award

The Charles C. Shepard Science Award is presented to the best manuscript on original research published by a CDC or Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) scientist in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal. Nominees for the 2015 Shepard Award included the following paper from CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

U.S. Assessment of HPV Types in Cancers: Implications for Current and 9-Valent HPV Vaccines4

A 2015 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute tested 2,670 cancer tissue samples for human papillomavirus (HPV) to find out what percentage of cancers may have been caused by HPV. The cancer tissue samples, along with data about the cancer diagnosis, were obtained from seven population-based cancer registries that met high quality standards. Authors discussed the potential impact of HPV vaccines on cancers in the United States, and established a baseline for measuring the future impact of HPV vaccines.

Cancer Prevention During Early Life5

We can lower a person’s chance of getting cancer at different ages, even before birth. CDC sponsored a special issue in the journal Pediatrics about factors from before birth through early childhood that may affect a person’s chance of getting cancer. Papers in this issue highlight the importance of working together to address potential cancer causes and risk factors. This 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.


1U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2013 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute; 2016.

2Ryerson AB, Eheman CR, Altekruse SF, Ward JW, Jemal A, Sherman RL, Henley SJ, Holtzman D, Lake A, Noone AM, Anderson RN, Ma J, Ly KN, Cronin KA, Penberthy L, Kohler BA. Annual report to the nation on the status of cancer, 1975–2012, featuring the increasing incidence of liver cancer. Cancer 2016;122:1312–1337.

3Henley SJ, Thomas CC, Sharapova SR, Momin B, Massetti GM, Winn DM, Armour BS, Richardson LC. Vital Signs: disparities in tobacco-related cancer incidence and mortality—United States, 2004-2013. MMWR 2016;65(44);1212–1218.

4Saraiya M, Unger ER, Thompson TD, Lynch CF, Hernandez BY, Lyu CW, Steinau M, Watson M, Wilkinson EJ, Hopenhayn C, Copeland G, Cozen W, Peters ES, Huang Y, Saber MS, Altekruse S, Goodman MT; HPV Typing of Cancers Workgroup. US assessment of HPV types in cancers: implications for current and 9-valent HPV vaccines. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2015;107(6):djv086.

5Opportunities for Cancer Prevention During Early Life. Pediatrics 2016;138 (S1).