About Cancer

Cancer is the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases in which cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control.

In New York City cancer kills nearly 13,000 residents every year, with smoking as the leading cause. One of every two men, and one of every three women, will be diagnosed with cancer at some time in their life. In women, breast is the most common type of cancer diagnosed. In men, prostate is the most common type of cancer diagnosed. For both men and women, lung cancers are the leading causes of death from cancer.

Cancer occurs at all ages, but the risk increases with age. Most cancers develop slowly in people. Cancers with known environmental causes usually appear five to 40 years after exposure to a carcinogen. This long latency period is one of the reasons it is difficult to determine what causes cancer.

Cancer and the Environment

Cancers have different causes and risk factors. Factors related to the occurrence of many types of cancer include age, sex, race, family history, smoking, diet, exercise and exposure to certain chemicals. Cancers often take a long time (decades) to develop, so it can be hard to single out a particular exposure as having a definite link to cancer.

Environmental exposures that may increase the risk of cancer include asbestos and other inhalable fibers; ionizing radiation and chemicals found in the home, workplace, water, food and air.

About the Data and Indicators

All cancers diagnosed among NYS residents are required by law to be reported to the NYS Cancer Registry. The registry is considered to have 95% or higher case ascertainment. This site contains data on cancers that were selected based on concern that environmental exposures could play a role in their development.


To reduce the risk of developing cancer or to detect cancer early:

  • Quit smoking, encourage others to quit, and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. Call 311 for resources to help you quit.
  • Use sun protection consistently to prevent skin cancers.
  • Get screened at appropriate ages for cervical, breast and colon and rectal cancer.
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