Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, but many kinds of cancer can be prevented or caught early. Leading risk factors for preventable cancers are smoking, getting too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds, being overweight or having obesity, and drinking too much alcohol.

CDC is a leader in efforts to reduce preventable cancers, improve the health of cancer survivors, and help give every person an equal opportunity to achieve the best health possible. Several divisions within CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion work to reduce risk factors for preventable cancers, promote screening to catch cancer early, and collect data on all notifiable cancer cases in the United States.

Fast Stats

A large group of people


people diagnosed with cancer each year.

Grave stone

600,000 PEOPLE

die from cancer each year.

1 red person and 2 blue people with America behind them


will have cancer in their lifetime.

Doctors clipboard with money piled in front


is spent each year on cancer care.

How We Do It

Cigarette Smoking and Secondhand smoke Exposure

Tips from Ex-Smokers - Oral cancer can affect more than just your mouth

Smoking and secondhand smoke cause about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths in the United States. Smoking also causes cancer of the voice box (larynx), mouth and throat, esophagus, urinary bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, colon, rectum, liver, and stomach, as well as a type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia. About 34 million US adults smoke cigarettes, and every day, about 1,600 young people under age 18 try their first cigarette.

People who don’t smoke but are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work have a 20% to 30% higher risk of lung cancer. Secondhand smoke causes more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths in this population each year. In the United States, 58 million people who don’t smoke are exposed to secondhand smoke every year.

CDC’s Response

CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health is at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to reduce deaths and prevent chronic diseases that result from commercial* tobacco use, including cancer.  OSH prioritizes health equity by creating opportunities for all people to be as healthy as possible.

CDC and its partners promote efforts to:

  • Prevent young people from starting to use tobacco.
  • Promote quitting among adults and young people.
  • Reduce people’s exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Advance health equity by identifying and eliminating tobacco-related disparities.

CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers® (Tips®) campaign, the first federally funded tobacco education campaign, focuses on motivating US adults who smoke to try to quit. Tips features real people who are living with serious health conditions caused by smoking and secondhand smoke exposure. The newest Tips series adds compelling stories from family members who take care of loved ones affected by a smoking-related disease or disability.

Tips connects people who smoke with resources to help them quit, including 1-800-QUIT-NOW, which directs people to free services from their state quitlines.

* When CDC references tobacco on this web page, we are referring to the use of commercial tobacco and not the sacred and traditional use of tobacco by some American Indian communities.

Exposure to Sun and Tanning Beds

Young girl on the beach

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, are caused by exposure to UV light from the sun or tanning beds. Although use of sun protection has increased slightly and use of tanning beds has decreased in recent years, sunburn is common in the United States. About one-third of adults and over half of high school students get sunburned each year.

CDC’s Response

CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control (DCPC) leads national efforts to reduce illness and death caused by skin cancer. CDC created the Melanoma Dashboard to share relevant state and local data to help communities use data to support their prevention efforts. CDC also conducts surveillance and research to provide data on melanoma cases and deaths, sunburn, sun protection behaviors, and use of tanning beds.

Overweight and Obesity

Woman jogging for exercise

Overweight and obesity are associated with at least 13 types of cancer, including endometrial (uterine) cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancer. In the United States, 42% of adults have obesity, and nearly 74% are overweight or have obesity.

CDC’s Response

CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity develops and shares proven approaches that make healthy living easier for everyone, which can help people reduce their risk of cancer. To promote good nutrition, the division works with hospitals to support breastfeeding moms, early care and education (ECE) centers to adopt healthy eating standards, and workplaces to change policies so that employees have more healthy food choices.

To increase physical activity opportunities, the division partners with state and local governments to promote improvements in equitable community design. For example, sidewalks and parks make physical activity safer and more convenient for people of all ages and abilities.

Excessive Alcohol Use

Liquor store sign

Excessive alcohol use, either in the form of binge drinking (5 or more drinks on an occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on an occasion for women) or heavy drinking (15 or more drinks per week for men or 8 or more drinks per week for women), increases the risk of cancer of the breast (in women), liver, colon, rectum, mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus. For some types of cancer, the risk increases even at low levels of alcohol consumption (less than 1 drink in a day). The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for cancer.

CDC’s Response

CDC’s Alcohol Program works to strengthen the scientific foundation for preventing excessive alcohol use. consumption of alcoholic beverages, even at low levels   can increase cancer risk. The program developed the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) online application, which allows users to estimate deaths and years of potential life lost from excessive alcohol use, including from alcohol-related cancers. The program also funds and advises scientists in some states to study excessive drinking so that state leaders have the information they need to guide policies to prevent this harmful health risk behavior. The program collaborated with CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control on  policy guidance to help states and communities reduce alcohol-related cancers.

Infectious Disease

Man getting a vaccine

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes most cervical cancers, as well as some cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and oropharynx (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). The HPV vaccine helps prevent most of these cancers. It is most effective when given in two doses about 6 to 12 months apart, starting at age 11 or 12. Nationwide, 77% of females and 73% of males aged 13–17 have received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine. That means many preteens have not been vaccinated against the virus, leaving them at higher risk of cancers caused by HPV infections.

Many liver cancer cases are related to the hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses. The hepatitis B vaccine is a safe and effective way to lower liver cancer risk. The vaccine is recommended for all infants and unvaccinated children and some groups of unvaccinated adults. While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, there is a safe and effective treatment that can eliminate the virus from the body and prevent further liver damage. Many Americans with hepatitis C are not aware they have it. CDC recommends that all adults aged 18 or older get tested at least once for hepatitis C and that all pregnant women get tested for hepatitis B and C during each pregnancy.

CDC’s Response

DCPC leads efforts to use cancer registry data to estimate how many HPV-associated cancers occur in the United States. The National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program promotes HPV vaccination. The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program helps reduce deaths from cervical cancer by expanding access to cancer screening services. The Inside Knowledge About Gynecologic Cancer campaign raises awareness among women and health care providers about the five main types of gynecologic cancers: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar. DCPC also collaborates with CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis on liver cancer prevention activities that align with national recommendations.

Screening to Prevent or Catch Cancer Early

Woman having a mammogram screening

Getting recommended screening tests can help prevent colorectal and cervical cancers. Screening for adults at normal risk can also find breast, cervical, and colon cancers early, when treatment works best. However, screening rates for these cancers remain below national targets set by Healthy People 2030, the nation’s agenda for improving the health of all Americans.

Lung cancer screening is recommended for adults who smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history, and are between 50 and 80 years old.

DCPC runs the Colorectal Cancer Control Program, which funds 20 states, 8 universities, 2 tribal organizations, and 5 other organizations to increase colorectal cancer screening among men and women aged 45 or older. CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program funds programs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, 5 US-Affiliated Pacific Islands, and 13 American Indian or Alaska Native tribes or tribal organizations to provide access to breast and cervical cancer screening for women with low incomes and little or no health insurance.

CDC also uses media campaigns to educate people about the importance of cancer screenings. For example, the Bring Your Brave campaign is designed to inspire women under age 45 to learn their risk of breast cancer and talk with their doctor about how to reduce it. The Inside Knowledge campaign raises awareness about gynecologic cancers. The Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign raises awareness about colorectal cancer screening.

Data Collection Is Key to CDC’s Efforts

To help Americans prevent cancer—or catch it early when possible—we need to know what cancers are being diagnosed, in what groups, and where. CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries collects data for all notifiable cancer cases in the United States.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program funds states, territories, and tribes to use CDC surveillance data to:

  • Learn more about the cancers and risk factors that affect their communities.
  • Create and follow plans to reduce cancer risk and improve cancer outcomes.
  • Reduce disparities in rates of cancer and access to cancer care.
Page last reviewed: June 7, 2022