Risk Factors & Prevention of Cancer

University Health Care System cares about its community and wants to make sure that we educate about the importance of cancer prevention and knowing the risk factors for getting cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease. In 2021 alone, nearly 1.9 million people in the US will be diagnosed with cancer. There are several factors, whether controllable or uncontrollable, that increases a person’s risk of getting cancer. American Cancer Society stresses that prevention and early detection are key factors in the fight against cancer.

Below are general risk factors for developing cancer throughout a person’s life. For information regarding risk factors and screening guidelines for specific cancer types, please click on the links in the sidebar.

*All of the cancer risk factors and screening guidelines listed on this website are recommendations from the American Cancer Society and National Comprehensive Cancer Network. You should always consult your healthcare provider for any medical information or advice for your specific situation.

General Cancer Risk Factors

  • Family history of cancer
  • Being overweight by 20 percent or more
  • Physical inactivity
  • Poor dietary habits: high fat, low fiber intake
  • High levels of stress
  • Long-term exposure to environmental carcinogens such as second-hand smoke, asbestos, radon or coal tar
  • Personal history of cancer
  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight
  • Ionizing radiation
  • Some viruses and bacteria
  • Certain hormones

Cancer and Your Lifestyle

Lifestyle choices such as body weight, diet, and physical activity are some of the most important factors that can be changed to reduce a person’s cancer risk. Excess body weight, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and/or excess alcohol consumption are related to at least 18% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States. Along with avoiding tobacco products, maintaining a healthy weight, being active, and eating a healthy diet can greatly reduce a person’s lifetime risk of developing or dying from cancer.

In addition to getting 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75-100 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week and limiting sedentary behavior, not smoking or drinking alcohol, and keeping your weight within a healthy range, the American Cancer Society recommends following a healthy eating pattern to reduce your risk of cancer. A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • Foods that are high in nutrients in amounts that help you get to and stay at a healthy body weight
  • A Variety of vegetables – dark green, red and orange, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), and others
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits in a variety of colors
  • Whole grains

A healthy eating pattern limits or does not include:

  • Red or processed meats
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Highly processed foods and refined grain products