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Skip Navigation LinksPennsylvania Department of Health > My Health > Environmental Health > Health Tracking Program > Cancer


Definition of Cancer

Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases. Cancer can start almost anywhere in the body.  Many cancers form solid tumors, which are masses of tissue.  However, there are certain cancers of the blood that do not form masses.  Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph system.  There are more than 100 kinds of cancer.


Cancer is a disease with many risk factors that can come together in ways that are not fully understood. Most cancers take a long time to develop. Depending on someone’s cancer type and the type of exposure, studies have documented it may take between 5 and 40 years to develop cancer.
Here is a list of some substances in the environment that have been known to cause cancer:
      -  Tobacco (cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco)
      -  Diet/Weight/Physical Inactivity
      -  Alcohol consumption
      -  Ultraviolet radiation (sun exposure)
      -  Viruses and bacteria
      -  Ionizing radiation
      -  Pesticides
      -  Medical drugs
      -  Solvents
      -  Fibers, fine particles and dusts
      -  Dioxins
      -  Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
      -  Metals
      -  Diesel exhaust particles
      -  Toxins from fungi
      -  Vinyl chloride
      -  Benzidine
The cancer risks associated with many environmental chemicals have been identified through studies of occupational groups who have had higher exposures to these chemicals than the general public.
You can make lifestyle choices and take precautions at home and the workplace to reduce potentially harmful exposures. Ask your doctor for specific recommendations, particularly if you have a family history of cancer. Here are some rules you can follow to reduce your risks:
      -  Don't smoke, dip or chew tobacco.
      -  Eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables a day.
      -  Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
      -  Try to get some exercise every day.
      -  Protect yourself from the sun and avoid getting sunburned.
      -  Women need to examine their breasts once a month, as well as get regular 
         breast examinations, mammograms and Pap smears.
      -  Discuss with your doctor the advisability of colon cancer screening.

PA EPHT’s and CDC’s Role in Tracking Cancer 
Both Tracking Networks are making cancer incidence data easier to use by integrating the information
with other health outcome data and environmental data.

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