Cancer Types and Risk Factors

Breast cancer


  • Lump in the breast or underarm persisting after the menstrual cycle (may or may not be painful)
  • Swelling in the armpit
  • Pain or tenderness in the breast
  • Noticeable flattening or indentation on the breast
  • Change in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of the breast
  • Change in the nipple (retraction, dimpling, itching, a burning sensation or ulceration)
  • Unusual discharge (clear, bloody or colored)
  • Marble-like area under the skin
  • Area distinctly different from any other area on either breast
Risk factors:
  • Age (most cases occur in women age 50 or older)
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer before menopause
  • Previous abnormal breast biopsy results
  • Menstruation before age 12
  • Menopause after age 55
  • Obesity or weight gain after menopause
  • Hormone therapy
  • Never being pregnant or having the first child after age 30
  • Having fewer children
  • Higher education and socioeconomic status
  • Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Lobular or ductal carcinoma in situ or atypical hyperplasia

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that forms in a woman's cervix, which is located in the lower part of the uterus. Most cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus. Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women and can often be successfully treated in the early stages, making routine pap tests, which check for cancer cells, essential for early detection.

  • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
  • Change in menstrual cycle
  • Bleeding when contact with cervix during sex or using diaphragm
  • Pain during sex
  • Vaginal discharge tinged with blood
Risk factors:
  • First intercourse at an early age
  • Multiple sex partners (either of the woman or her partner)
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Race (more cases occur in African American, Hispanic and American Indian women)
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth
  • HIV infection
  • Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy or chronic steroid use

Endometrial/uterine cancer

Endometrial (uterine) cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the lining of a woman-s uterus. Endometrial cancer is the most common form of uterine cancer, typically occurring in women age 50 and older. Endometrial cancer, if found in early stages, is very treatable.

  • Bleeding or vaginal discharge (not related to menstruation)
  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Pain during sex
  • Pelvic pain
Risk factors:
  • Increasing age
  • Increased estrogen exposure
  • First period before age 12
  • Menopause after age 55
  • Hormonal therapy without the use of progestin
  • Never being pregnant
  • History of infertility
  • Personal history of hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer
  • Obesity
  • Use of tamoxifen

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that forms in a woman's ovaries, the female reproductive organ that produces eggs. Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women. Early symptoms of ovarian cancer may be vague and can be attributed to other conditions. To increase your chances of an early diagnosis, when cancer is most treatable, remember that early symptoms of ovarian cancer often follow a pattern. They start suddenly, feel different than normal digestive or menstrual problems, and they occur almost daily and do not go away.

  • Frequent bloating
  • Pain belly or pelvis
  • Trouble eating, or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary problems, including frequent urination
Risk factors:
  • Age (most common in people over age 50)
  • Family history of ovarian (mother, daughter, sister, grandmother or aunt)
  • Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Northern European and/or Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • Never being pregnant

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that forms in a man's prostate, the male reproductive gland that produces seminal fluid. Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, and when found in its early stages is very treatable. Generally, early stage prostate cancer has few symptoms, but symptoms typically appear as cancer progresses.

  • Frequent need to urinate (especially at night)
  • Difficulty starting or stopping a stream of urine
  • Weak or interrupted urinary stream
  • Leaking of urine when laughing or coughing
  • Inability to urinate standing up
  • Painful or burning sensation during urination or ejaculation
  • Blood in urine or semen
Risk factors:
  • Age (men 50 and older are at greater risk)
  • Family history of prostate cancer (especially father, brother or son)
  • Race - African American men have nearly twice the incidence of white men
  • Diet high in saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables

Colon and rectal cancer

Colorectal cancer refers to cancers that form in either the colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer is most common in people age 50 and older. Colorectal cancer, if found in the early stages, is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. Generally early stage colorectal cancer has no symptoms, but symptoms typically appear as cancer progresses.

  • Changes in bowel movements (including persistent constipation or diarrhea)
  • Not being able to empty the bowel completely
  • Urgency to move the bowels
  • Rectal cramping
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Dark patches of blood in or on stool
  • Long, thin, "pencil stools"
  • Abdominal discomfort or bloating
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Pelvic pain
Risk factors:
  • Age (most common in people over age 50)
  • Family history of colorectal cancer (especially a parent or sibling)
  • Personal or family history of adenomatous polyps (especially a parent or sibling)
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Diet high in fat (especially in red meat)
  • Diet low in fiber, fruits and vegetables
  • Physical inactivity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Obesity

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that forms in lung tissue, most often beginning in the cells that line the bronchi tubes. There are two main types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common type, and small cell lung cancer. If cancer begins somewhere else in the body and spreads to the lungs, it is called metastatic lung cancer. Generally, early stage lung cancer has no symptoms, but symptoms typically appear as cancer progresses and affects lung function.

  • Chronic hacking or raspy coughing
  • Blood-streaked mucus
  • Recurring respiratory infections (including bronchitis or pneumonia)
  • Increasing shortness of breath
  • Wheezing and persistent chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Pain and weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand
Risk factors:
  • Cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking
  • Family history of lung cancer
  • Recurring exposure to radon or asbestos (especially for smokers), radiation, arsenic, air pollution and second hand smoke
  • Lung diseases such as tuberculosis (TB)

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is a type of cancer that forms on skin. While this form of cancer most commonly affects skin that has been repeatedly exposed to sunlight, it can also occur on skin that received little or no sun exposure. There are three main types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
  • Basal cell carcinoma
    Slow growing and unlikely to spread, this is the most common form of cancer in light-skinned people. Most often related to sun exposure, symptoms include a small, fleshy bump with a smooth, pearly appearance, often with an indentation in the middle; a scar like lesion that is firm to the touch; a bump that bleeds, crusts over, and then repeats the cycle; a red, tender, flat spot that bleeds easily; and tiny blood vessels in thin red lines with a spiderlike appearance.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
    Fast growing and very likely to spread, this is the second most common form of cancer in light-skinned people. Most often related to sun exposure, symptoms include a firm red bump; a growth or patch of skin that feels scaly, bleeds, or develops a crust; and a sore that does not heal.
  • Melanoma
    Though not as common as other types, melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Melanoma can grow anywhere on the body, but most often occurs on the upper back of men and the upper back and legs of women. Melanoma may only affect your skin, or it may spread to other organs or bones. Symptoms of melanoma include any change in size, shape or color of a mole or other skin growth, such as birth marks. These changes may include, elevation, such as thickening or raising of a previously flat mole; surface, such as scaling, erosion, oozing, bleeding, or crusting; surrounding skin, such as redness, swelling, or small new patches of color around a larger lesion; sensation, such as itching, tingling, or burning; and consistency, such as softening or small pieces that break off easily.

Risk factors:
  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds
  • Fair complexion
  • Family history (especially of melanoma)
  • Living in areas with intense sun exposure
  • Occupational exposure to coal, pitch, creosote, arsenic or radium