Cancer starts from the uncontrolled division of cells in the body. As the abnormal cells continue to grow, they form a tumor. As a tumor grows it can remain in place or it can metastasize (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 often referred to as a malignant neoplasm.
Why It’s Important
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States (US).1 Approximately, 39.5% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their life.2 Prevention, screening, and treatment options are available for most types of cancer and their use and advancements in each have decreased death rates due to cancer.
What Is Known
Cancer can develop over many years and may not cause any symptoms until it has reached a later stage. Although there is no specific cause for cancer, several factors, both inside and outside the body, contribute to the development of cancer. Some of these factors include genetics, tobacco use, diet, weight, physical inactivity, and excessive sunlight exposure. Other factors include exposure to chemicals that may be present in food, air, or water such as asbestos, benzene, and arsenic.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Hawaiʻi accounting for about 2,500 deaths each year or 124.1 deaths/100,000 age-adjusted population (Death Records 2018-2020).
- Lung cancer (24.8/100,000), colorectal cancer (11.6/100,000), pancreatic cancer (10.3/100,000), breast cancer (8.8/100,000), and liver cancer (7.7/100,000) were leading causes of cancer deaths.
Almost 1 in 10 adults (9.2%) have ever been diagnosed with any type of cancer, and 4.5% have ever been diagnosed with skin cancer (BRFSS 2020), but disparities exist.
- Ever cancer diagnosis increases with age from 2.6% among those 35-44 years to 25.1% among those 75+.
- It is higher among Caucasians (17.5%), college graduates (11.8%), and women (10.4%).
Who Is at Risk
No one is immune from getting cancer. Although scientific studies have identified specific factors which increase the risk for cancer, sometimes people without any risk factors still develop cancer. Additionally, some people with multiple risk factors may never develop cancer. Identified risk factors for cancer include:
- Age–risk increases with age
- Race and ethnicity–incidence and mortality vary by race and ethnic background and cancer type
- Tobacco use
- Environmental exposure to cancer-causing agents (carcinogens)
- Genetics and family history
- Medical conditions/diseases including a weak immune system, diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, or human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
How To Reduce Risk
There are many ways to reduce your risk of cancer. Following these guidelines can reduce your risk for cancer and improve your general health.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Do not smoke or use tobacco products. Quitting tobacco can reduce the risk of cancer.
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Protect your skin from the sun with sunscreen and protective clothing
- Limit your exposure to environmental risk factors such as asbestos, radon, arsenic and benzene
- Get routine medical screenings for cancers. Early detection of cancer significantly improves the chances of a complete recovery
Page last updated July 29, 2022.
1 Cancer. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/cancer.htm Updated June 7, 2022. Accessed July 25, 2022.
2 Cancer Statistics. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics Updated September 25, 2020. Accessed July 29, 2022.