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Understanding Cancer Series

  • Posted: 04/07/2006
  • Reviewed: 11/04/2010

Slide 2

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What Is the Environment?

When most people think of the word "environment," they think of forests, oceans, or mountains. In cancer research, however, scientists define the environment as everything outside the body that enters and interacts with it. This interaction is called an exposure. So, environmental exposures can include such factors as sunshine, radiation, hormones, viruses, bacteria, and chemicals in the air, water, food, and workplace, as well as lifestyle choices like cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption (more than 2 drinks/day), an unhealthful diet, lack of exercise, or sexual behavior that increases one's exposure.

Researchers have estimated that as many as 2 in 3 cases of cancer (67 percent) are linked to some type of environmental factor, including use--or abuse--of tobacco, alcohol, and food, as well as exposures to radiation, infectious agents, and substances in the air, water, and soil.

What Is the Environment?