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Regional Cancer Center

A department of Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center

Cancer Risk Factors

What are the risk factors for cancer?

Some cancers have been linked with certain risk factors. A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of getting a disease. A risk factor does not necessarily cause the disease, but it may mean you’re more likely to get it.

People with an increased risk of cancer can reduce their risk by keeping up with screenings. Reducing certain risk factors can also help. Cancer treatment tends to work better when the cancer is found early. Risk factors of cancer include:

  • Lifestyle factors - These include smoking, a high-fat diet, and exposure to ultraviolet light (UV radiation from the sun). These are only risk factors for adult cancers. Most children with cancer are too young to have been exposed to lifestyle factors long-term.
  • Genetic factors - Family history, inheritance, and genetics may play a role in some cancers. Some cancers run in families. Some gene alterations are inherited. However, this does not mean that the person will get cancer. It just means that the chance of getting cancer is higher. It isn’t known if the disease is caused by a genetic mutation, other factors, or a coincidence.
  • Virus exposure - Exposures to certain viruses have been linked to cancer. These include the human papillomavirus (HPV) and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. These viruses may change your cells in some way. Over time, these changes may become a cancer cell that makes more cancer cells. Cancer isn’t contagious. You cannot get it from another person.
  • Environmental factors - People with certain jobs, such as painters, farmers, construction workers, and those in the chemical industry, seem to have a higher risk of some cancers. This is likely due to exposures to certain chemicals. Other environmental factors in your home may also be linked to cancer. These can include radon, a radioactive gas.