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10 Cancer Myths

        Health | General Cancer Facts

Early Lifestyle Choices and Cancer

Cancer Myth 10: What someone does as a young adult has little impact on their chances of getting cancer later in life.

Respondents Who Agreed: 25 percent

Origin of Myth: Many teens and young adults have a feeling of immortality — that bad things only happen to other people. Each teen who tries smoking cigarettes, for example, is convinced that he or she won't become addicted and can quit at any time. They think that it's only the other kids or adults who become addicted to nicotine for years, not them.

Reality: The truth is that lifestyle choices made as a young adult do increase your risk of developing cancer, particularly the use of tobacco, but also your diet, the amount of physical activity you get, and your exposure to the sun. About one-quarter of those surveyed seem to be denying this reality — they agreed with the myth that a person's early lifestyle choices have little impact on their chances of getting cancer later in life.

Most cases of cancer are the consequence of many years of exposure to several risk factors. What you eat, whether you are physically active, whether you get sunburned regularly, and especially, whether you smoke as a young person have a substantial influence on whether you develop cancer later in life.

More than two-thirds of all fatal cancer cases can be prevented with simple lifestyle changes:

  • Eating lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains
  • Exercising
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Using protection against the sun
  • And especially, not smoking

Tobacco and Teens: Making the Right Choice

The decisions young people make about using tobacco will have the most profound impact on their chances of developing cancer later in life. Smoking causes 30 percent of all cancer deaths and about 440,000 premature deaths annually.

About 90 percent of the time kids try tobacco for the first time before finishing high school, and the highly addictive qualities of nicotine keep them smoking for decades. But if people can get through their teen years without smoking or chewing tobacco, they most likely will never start.

Research also shows the younger you begin to smoke, the more likely you are to be an adult smoker. People who begin to smoke at an earlier age are more likely to develop long-term nicotine addiction than those who start their habit later.

Teen smoking rates have been dropping in recent years, from a peak of 36 percent in 1997, thanks to increases in school-based efforts to prevent tobacco use, large anti-tobacco ad campaigns aimed at young people, indoor smoking restrictions, and rising prices and taxes for cigarettes. Where states have increased tobacco taxes and instituted anti-tobacco education programs, fewer teens have started smoking.

What You Do As a Teen Can Come Back to Haunt You

Whether it is smoking cigarettes or not using protection against the sun, habits developed as a teen can lead to cancer as an adult. The effects of these harmful habits don't disappear as years pass, but can be diminished by living a healthy life as you grow older.

Research continues to pinpoint the more effective ways to quit smoking. The American Cancer Society publication Kicking Butts provides the latest information about smoking cessation.