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California Environmental Health Tracking Program

850 Marina Bay Pkwy, P-3
Richmond, CA 94804

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Last Edited: 10/16/2012

Cancer Types

There are many types of cancer, each named by the part of the body where the abnormal cell growth has begun, regardless of whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.  Different types of cancer behave very differently.  They grow and spread at different rates and respond to different treatments.

CEHTP provides data on the following types of cancer.  For all of these, there is concern that environmental exposures could play a role in their development:

Brief descriptions are provided below.  To learn more about the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for each type of cancer, see the National Cancer Institute website.


Breast Cancer

Breast cancer occurs when a malignant tumor forms in the tissue of the breast. It is one of the most common types of cancer in women. Although men can get breast cancer too, it is more common among women. It is estimated that one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in life. Most breast cancers happen in women over 55 years of age. Women should perform breast self-examination and receive regular mammograms to increase chances of early detection. There are many factors linked to breast cancer; among those that we can control are drinking alcohol, not getting exercise, being overweight or obese, and taking some forms of hormone replacement therapy.

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Lung Cancer

Lung cancer forms in the tissues of the lung, and bronchus cancer forms in the tubes connecting the windpipe to the lung. Cancer in these areas are the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke is the most common cause of these cancers.

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Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer forms in the cells lining the urinary system.  Bladder cancer is more common among older people, men, and whites (as compared to blacks).  Smoking and working around certain chemicals are the two biggest risk factors for bladder cancer.

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Brain Cancer

Brain cancer occurs in the tissues of the brain and central nervous system. Cancers of the brain are more common among children under 15 and adults aged 65 years and older. Little is known about the causes of brain cancer and how to prevent it from occurring.

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Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer forms in the thyroid gland.  Known risk factors for thyroid cancer include exposure to radiation, family history, being female, being between ages 45 and 65, abnormal iodine intake (both abnormally low and abnormally high levels), and hormonal factors.

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Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Non-hodgkin lymphoma refers to a large group of cancers that begin in the immune system. Risk factors for non-hodgkin lymphoma include a weakened immune system, exposure to radiation, certain infections, exposure to certain chemicals and drugs, and older age.

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Leukemia includes a diverse group of cancers that begin in white blood cells. Although it is sometimes thought of as a children’s disease, leukemia is more common in older adults than in children. There are several different types of leukemia. Each type leukemia starts in a particular type of white blood cell and grows at a different rate:

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) starts in the lymphoid cells of the bone marrow and can spread to other parts of the body. CLL usually grows slowly and is most common in older adults. Scientists know little about the risk factors for CLL.
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) starts in the lymphoid cells and grows quickly. ALL is the most common type of leukemia in young children. While a few things, such as radiation exposure, exposure to certain chemicals, and certain inherited syndromes (such as Down syndrome) are risk factors for ALL, little is understood about the causes of this disease, especially in children.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) starts in the myeloid cells of the bone marrow and grows quickly. AML occurs in both adults and children. Smoking is one of the few known risk factors for AML, and other risk factors are similar to those for ALL.

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Mesothelioma is a rare cancer affecting the linings of internal organs, most often the lungs. It is most often caused by exposure to asbestos and takes many years after exposure to develop. As with many types of cancer, early detection can mean a better prognosis.

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Melanoma is the rarest but most serious of skin cancers. Data reported here are for invasive melanoma of the skin only, although there are other types of melanoma and other parts of the body where melanoma can develop. Risk factors for developing melanoma include frequent and prolonged exposure to sun; or having fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blond or red hair; using tanning beds; or having a weakened immune system also put people at risk .  Exposures to environmental pollutants such as arsenic or dioxins may also contribute to increased risk for melanoma. 

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Liver and Intrahepatic Bile Duct Cancers

Liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancers are seen most often in people who have hepatitis B or C infection (whether they have symptoms of hepatitis or not), chronically abuse alcohol, or have autoimmune diseases affecting the liver .  Exposures to environmental pollutants such as solvents and persistent organic compounds may also contribute to increased risk for liver cancer.

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Kidney and Renal Pelvis Cancers

Kidney and renal pelvis cancers form in and around the kidneys. Risk factors include smoking, long-term use of certain pain medications, and some genetic factors.  There is also concern that exposure to cadmium, arsenic, and disinfection byproducts in drinking water may increase risk for these cancers.  This category of cancer also includes Wilms tumor, a rare kidney cancer affecting children under five. 

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Tobacco-Related Cancers

These include cancers of the mouth and throat area and the pancreas.  Other types of cancer may also be related to tobacco smoking, such as lung cancer, but are not included in this category.  Both smoking and smoke-less tobacco (chewing tobacco) increase the risk of these cancers.  While tobacco use increases the risk of all the cancers listed here, there is no way to determine which specific cases in these data are linked with tobacco use.

  • Pharynx Cancer-  Also called pharyngeal cancer, this cancer affects the area of the throat directly below the mouth and nose, but above the larynx.  Major risk factors include tobacco use (either smoking or chewing), high levels of alcohol consumption, and human papilloma virus (HPV) infections in the mouth or throat.
  • Larynx Cancer-  Also called laryngeal cancer, this is a cancer of the larynx, which is the part of the throat below the pharynx and above the esophagus.  Tobacco use (either through smoking or chewing) raises one’s risk for this type of cancer.
  • Esophageal Cancer-  Esophageal cancer affects the esophagus, the muscular tube that leads from the larynx to the stomach.  Major risk factors include tobacco use (either smoking or chewing), high levels of alcohol consumption, and human papilloma virus (HPV) infections in the mouth or throat.
  • Pancreatic Cancer-  Pancreatic cancer affects the pancreas, a glandular organ that produces insulin, other hormones, and digestive juices.  Also called exocrine cancer, pancreatic cancer is known to be associated with tobacco use (either smoking or chewing).  There is also concern that exposure to specific chemicals (such as cadmium) may increase one’s risk.

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