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What is Cancer?

Cancers are a group of about 100 related diseases where some cells in the body change and divide without control. As the abnormal cells continue to grow, they form a tumor. As the tumor grows it can metastasize, or spread, and begin forming new tumors in different parts of the body. Not all cancers behave the same way; different types of cancer have different growth rates and respond differently to anti-cancer treatments. In medical terms, cancer is referred to as malignant neoplasms.

About 1.7 million new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed during 2018 in the United States. U.S. cancer care costs were $147.3 billion in 2017. In the future, costs are likely to increase due to an aging population having more cancer, coupled with the costs of new, and often more expensive treatments which will be adopted as standards of care. The good news is that the overall cancer death rate in the U.S. fell 26% between 1991 and 2015. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimated that, in 2016, there were 15.5 million cancer survivors in the United States. The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026.

What are the Risk Factors?

Major risk factors for cancer include tobacco use, diet, lack of exercise, and sun exposure.. For example, people who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. Researchers have also identified genetic risks for cancer. Compared to women without a family history, risk of breast cancer is about 1.5 times higher for women with one affected first-degree female relative and 2-4 times higher for women with more than one first-degree relative.

Nobody is immune from getting cancer. Even though scientific studies have shown that specific factors increase the risk for cancer, sometimes people who have no known risk factors still develop cancer while others, and people who have many risk factors, do not develop cancer. The following list contains common cancer risk factors. It is important to remember that some of these are modifiable and some are not. Risk factors include:

Certain workplace exposures can cause cancer
  • Alcohol use
  • Exposure to cancer-causing substances
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Diet
  • Hormones
  • Immunosuppression
  • Some infectious diseases
  • Obesity
  • Radiation
  • Sunlight
  • Tobacco use and second-hand exposure to smoke
  • Older age; the risk of developing cancer increases with age
  • Race and ethnicity; people of certain races and ethnic backgrounds are at higher risk for certain types of cancer.

Health Tips

There are many ways to reduce your risk for cancer. Following these guidelines will not only reduce your risk for cancer, but improve your general health as well:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Do not smoke; if you already smoke, quit
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
  • Receive proper immunizations; certain infectious diseases like the human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B and C could lead to cancer later in life
  • Protect your skin from the sun; wear proper sun-protection clothing and use plenty of sunscreen when you are outside
  • Limit your exposure to environmental risk factors, such as asbestos, radon, arsenic, and benzene
  • Get regular medical check-ups, including cancer screenings like mammography, Pap and HPV tests, and colonoscopy. Early detection of cancer significantly improves the chances of a complete recovery.
Quitting smoking can greatly lower your risk of cancer

Screening: The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) monitors the use of cancer screening tests such as mammography for breast cancer, Pap and HPV tests for cervical cancer, and fecal immunochemical tests and colonoscopy for colorectal cancer. You can find BRFSS data on our sister site NM IBIS.

Note: NMTracking Indicator pages (see "Reports and Data" below) have useful information beyond statistics for individual cancers. Be sure to look at the More Information menu on each indicator.

Notifiable Diseases or Conditions in New Mexico (N.M.A.C

Cancer: Report all malignant and in situ neoplasms and all intracranial neoplasms, regardless of the tissue of origin to NM DOH designee: New Mexico Tumor Registry, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, NM 87131.