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Adult Cancer


About Adult Cancer

What is cancer?

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. It is not a single disease, but more than 100 different diseases.

Cancer is a collection of related diseases—there are more than 100 types of cancer. All types of cancer involve the uncontrolled growth of cells in the body. It can occur in any organ in the body and many types of cells of cells can become cancerous. Cancerous cells can spread into nearby tissues or be carried to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. Most cancers develop slowly. They can appear from several years to decades after exposure to a carcinogen. For example, cancer of the lung may not occur until 30 years after a person starts smoking.

What causes cancer?

Cancer is caused by changes to genes that control how our cells grow and divide. These genetic changes can be inherited from our parents or arise during a person’s lifetime. Repeated long-term contact with environmental carcinogens, including tobacco smoke, sunlight, x-rays, radon and certain chemicals can cause cancer. Exposure to carcinogens can happen through air, water, food or drugs. A mix of behavioral, genetic and environmental factors may cause cancer.

Who is at risk?

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Oregon. About one in three people are diagnosed with cancer at some time in their life and about one in five die of cancer. Cancer develops in people of all ages. In children younger than 15 years old, cancer is the leading cause of death from disease. Some types of cancers that develop in children differ from those that develop in adults.

Cancer can cause many different symptoms. Symptoms of cancer can include a sore that doesn’t heal, a new mole or a change in a mole, lumps or thickening under the skin, a cough that doesn’t go away, unusual bleeding or discharge, changes in appetite or bowel habits. Consult a health care provider if you have any of symptoms of concern that might be cancer.

How to reduce risk:

Some risk factors for cancer such as age and family history can’t be changed. Other cancer risk factors are related to behavior or lifestyle and can be changed. These are known as “modifiable risk factors” and include alcohol use, obesity, physical inactivity and tobacco use. Avoiding or controlling these risk factors can decrease a person’s risk of cancer. For more information about cancers related to modifiable risk factors see Oregon State Cancer Registry and the National Cancer Institute Prevention Overview.

Early detection and treatment can improve outcomes for people with cancer. Screening tests for breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancers can help find cancers early and reduce deaths from those cancers. Vaccines can also lower risk for certain cancers such as cervical and liver cancer. To learn more go to CDC’s How to Prevent Cancer or Find It Early.

Cancers Oregon Environmental Public Health track:

Bladder Cancer – Smoking is the primary risk factor for bladder cancer. Those who smoke have more than twice the risk of non-smokers. In men, smoking is associated with over 50% of the cases of bladder cancer. Other risk factors for bladder cancer include occupational exposure to rubber, dyes, textiles, paint and hairdressing supplies. Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic or disinfection byproducts in drinking water also increases the risk of bladder cancer.

Brain & Central Nervous System (CNS) Cancer – Very little is known about the causes of brain and CNS cancers. For adults, a family history, exposure to radiation (particularly cranial radiation therapy) and immune system disorders are risk factors. Research is ongoing into other possible influences on brain and CNS cancer, including cell phone use, exposure to vinyl chloride, petroleum products and electromagnetic fields from power lines and transformers.

Breast Cancer (female) – Risk factors for female breast cancer include age, early start of menstrual periods, late onset of menopause, never giving birth or being older at the birth of the first child, never breastfeeding, family history of breast cancer, obesity, radiation therapy to the chest, hormone replacement therapy, changes in the breast cancer related genes BRCA1 or BRCA2, using birth control pills, drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day and physical inactivity. Research is being done to explore possible environmental influences on breast cancer risk.

Kidney Cancer – The kidney is an important organ which filters blood to remove waste products and extra water. Risk factors for kidney cancer include smoking, high blood pressure and family history of the disease. Exposure to cadmium, arsenic and disinfecting byproducts such as chloroform, TCE, n-nitrosamines can damage the kidney and cause cancer. Data from community water systems and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate widespread environmental exposures to some of these hazards. Kidney cancer is one of a few types of cancer with increasing rates.

Leukemia – Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow. Although it is often thought of as a children's disease, most cases occur in adults over the age of 65. Three types of leukemia are tracked: acute lymphocytic (ALL) in children and acute myeloid (AML) and chronic lymphocytic (CLL style='color:#1F497D'>) in all ages. In adults, risk factors for AML include being male, smoking, past cancer treatment, exposure to radiation, exposure to benzene and a history of blood disorders. The only known risk factors for CLL are being middle-aged or older, caucasian, male and a family history of CLL. The most common types of leukemia in children are ALL and AML.

Liver Cancer - The liver's main job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract before passing it to the rest of the body. Liver cancer is associated with environmental chemical exposures due to the liver’s role in breaking down chemicals and drugs. Among other hazards, exposure to vinyl chloride, chloroform, DEHP, PCBs, pentachlorophenol, aflatoxin, plutonium, tricholorethene, DDT/DDE and benzene are associated with liver cancer. Liver cancer is one of a few cancers whose rates are still rising, tripling between 1975 – 2005 and significantly increasing in most recent reports.

Lung and Bronchus Cancers – Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and tobacco is believed to cause 80-90% of all lung cancers. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. A number of chemicals that are used in manufacturing are also known lung carcinogens. These include arsenic, asbestos and silica. Other risk factors for lung and bronchus cancer include air pollution, exposure to second-hand smoke, radiation therapy for another cancer, a family history of lung cancer and lowered immunity from diseases such as HIV/AIDS or from medications taken after organ transplants.

Melanoma – Melanoma is the least common but most aggressive type of skin cancer. The primary risk factor for developing melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds. Other risks factors include light skin, history of sunburns early in life, skin that burns easily, blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, moles (the more moles, the higher the risk), a family history of melanoma, a previous diagnosis of melanoma, weakened immune system and a rare inherited condition called xeroderma pigmentosum.

Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the protective lining covering the internal organs and occurs most frequently around the lungs and stomach. Exposure to asbestos fibers is the main risk factor for mesothelioma. The risk increases the earlier the exposure occurred, the greater the exposure and the longer the exposure continued. Other risk factors for mesothelioma include exposure to zeolite (a mineral found in Turkey) and thorium dioxide (a substance previously used in certain x-rays).

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma – This cancer begins in the lymph nodes, spleen or bone marrow and affects the lymphocytes. Risk factors for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma include being older, male or caucasian, inherited immune disorders, autoimmune diseases (HIV/AIDS), certain types of infections, taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant, a diet high in meats and fat, past treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma and being exposed to pesticides.

Thyroid Cancer – The thyroid is a small gland that helps regulate growth and metabolism. Risk factors for thyroid cancer include exposure to high levels of radiation from radioactive fallout such as occurred with atomic weapons testing in the 1950s, releases from atomic weapons production plants (such as the Hanford facility in the late 1940s) or nuclear power plant accidents (such as Chernobyl), exposure to high-dose x-rays, family history of thyroid cancer, goiters or colorectal polyps, certain congenital syndromes, being female and age over 45. Studies are being done to investigate the role of too much or too little iodine as a risk factor for thyroid cancer.

For more informations on the cancers listed visit:

About the measures:

Oregon Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) tracks the annual number of new cases and the age-adjusted rate for all cancers and for specific types of cancer that have been associated with environmental contaminants.

Measures include the annual number of new cases and the age-adjusted rate for all cancers. Rates of cancer consider population size, thus, making them more useful than raw number of cancers for comparisons between geographic areas or time periods. Differences in rates over time or between counties may reflect differences or changes in diagnostic techniques and criteria. Differences in rates may also be due to variations in socio-demographic characteristics and associated behaviors. When comparing rates across counties, it is important to note that a variety of non-environmental factors, such as access to medical care, personal behaviors, health status and diet affect the likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer.

Measures only include records of diagnosed cancer cases reported to the Oregon State Cancer Registry (OSCaR). County of residence is based on the address at the time of diagnosis. Information is collected for each separate cancer when a person is diagnosed with more than one type of cancer. Tumor and cancer type definitions are based on the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Site Recode classifications. OSCaR does not collect information on prior residences or personal exposure history.

Related Indicators:


For more information about cancer, visit these websites:

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