Cancer Risk Factors

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Growing older

The most important risk factor for cancer is growing older. Most cancers occur in people over the age of 65. But people of all ages, including children, can get cancer, too.

Tobacco

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of death. Each year, more than 180,000 Americans die from cancer that is related to tobacco use.

Using tobacco products or regularly being around tobacco smoke (environmental or secondhand smoke) increases the risk of cancer.

Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop cancer of the lung, larynx (voice box), mouth, esophagus, bladder, kidney, throat, stomach, pancreas, or cervix. They also are more likely to develop acute myeloid leukemia (cancer that starts in blood cells).

People who use smokeless tobacco (snuff or chewing tobacco) are at increased risk of cancer of the mouth.

Quitting is important for anyone who uses tobacco - even people who have used it for many years. The risk of cancer for people who quit is lower than the risk for people who continue to use tobacco. (But the risk of cancer is generally lowest among those who never used tobacco.)

Also, for people who have already had cancer, quitting may reduce the chance of getting another cancer.

There are many resources to help people stop using tobacco:

  • Staff at the NCI's Smoking Quitline (1-877-44U-QUIT) and at LiveHelp (click on "Need Help?" at http://www.cancer.gov) can talk with you about ways to quit smoking and about groups that help smokers who want to quit. Groups may offer counseling in person or by telephone.
  • A Federal Government Web site, http://www.smokefree.gov, has an online guide to quitting smoking and a list of other resources.
  • Doctors and dentists can help their patients find local programs or trained professionals who help people stop using tobacco.
  • Doctors and dentists can suggest medicine or nicotine replacement therapy, such as a patch, gum, lozenge, nasal spray, or inhaler.
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