- Cancer 101: Cancer Explained
- Guide to Breast Cancer
- Skin Cancer Risks
- Patient Comments: Cancer Risk Factors - Tobacco
- Patient Comments: Cancer Risk Factors - Chemicals and Substances
- Patient Comments: Cancer Risk Factors - Family History
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation comes from the sun, sunlamps, and tanning booths. It causes early aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer.
Doctors encourage people of all ages to limit their time in the sun and to avoid other sources of UV radiation:
- It is best to avoid the midday sun (from mid-morning to late afternoon) whenever possible. You also should protect yourself from UV radiation reflected by sand, water, snow, and ice. UV radiation can penetrate light clothing, windshields, and windows.
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, a hat with a wide brim, and sunglasses with lenses that absorb UV.
- Use sunscreen. Sunscreen may help prevent skin cancer, especially sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. But sunscreens cannot replace avoiding the sun and wearing clothing to protect the skin.
- Stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths. They are no safer than sunlight.
Ionizing radiation can cause cell damage that leads to cancer. This kind of radiation comes from rays that enter the Earth's atmosphere from outer space, radioactive fallout, radon gas, X-rays, and other sources.
Radioactive fallout can come from accidents at nuclear power plants or from the production, testing, or use of atomic weapons. People exposed to fallout may have an increased risk of cancer, especially leukemia and cancers of the thyroid, breast, lung, and stomach.
Radon is a radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell, or taste. It forms in soil and rocks. People who work in mines may be exposed to radon. In some parts of the country, radon is found in houses. People exposed to radon are at increased risk of lung cancer.
Medical procedures are a common source of radiation:
- Doctors use radiation (low-dose X-rays) to take pictures of the inside of the body. These pictures help to diagnose broken bones and other problems.
- Doctors use radiation therapy (high-dose radiation from large machines or from radioactive substances) to treat cancer.
The risk of cancer from low-dose X-rays is extremely small. The risk from radiation therapy is slightly higher. For both, the benefit nearly always outweighs the small risk.
You should talk with your doctor if you are concerned that you may be at risk for cancer due to radiation.
If you live in a part of the country that has radon, you may wish to test your home for high levels of the gas. The home radon test is easy to use and inexpensive. Most hardware stores sell the test kit.
You should talk with your doctor or dentist about the need for each X-ray. You should also ask about shields to protect parts of the body that are not in the picture.
Cancer patients may want to talk with their doctor about how radiation treatment could increase their risk of a second cancer later on.