Causes and Prevention

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Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the risk of getting cancer.

  • The goal of primary prevention is to keep cancer from developing. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing substances.
  • The goal of secondary cancer prevention is to detect and treat precancerous conditions (that is, conditions that may become cancer) or early, asymptomatic cancer.

Risk Factors

It is usually not possible to know exactly why one person develops cancer and another doesn't. But research has shown that certain factors, called risk factors, may increase a person's chances. Although some of these risk factors—like growing older—cannot be avoided, others—like using tobacco—can be.


Cancer results from changes to genes that control the way cells grow and divide. A small number of cancers are caused by inherited genetic changes, but most cancer-causing changes occur during a person’s life. Genetic testing is available for possible inherited mutations as well as for alterations that are found in tumors themselves.

Cancer Prevention Overview (PDQ®)

General information about cancer prevention and descriptions of the concepts used in cancer-specific prevention summaries.

Causes and Prevention Research

The latest research on causes and risk factors for cancers and how some cancers may be prevented.