Cancer is a leading cause of death in Michigan, second only to heart disease. Cancer is caused by abnormal cells that grow out of control. The diseases are often named after the part of the body where they begin such as breast cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal (colon) cancer.

Normally, human cells grow and divide, making new cells to replace old or damaged ones. Cancer causes new cells to grow abnormally. These extra cells divide and multiply, invading other tissues.

Cancerous tumors are malignant, meaning the cells can multiply and invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. A cancer that has spread from the place it started to another area of the body is called metastatic cancer.

There are many types of cancer. Not all cancers multiply at the same pace. Some types of cancer are considered slow-growing and are less aggressive. Some types are fast-growing, spreading rapidly to other parts of the body. Current research is looking into cancer cell behavior and therapies that can help fight cancer.

Risk Factors

In the United States, it is estimated that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Cancer has many risk factors, and certain risk factors can increase the chance of getting cancer. The risk factors include environmental exposures at home and in the workplace, lifestyle choices, genetics, certain infections, and some medical treatments

Some risk factors, such as smoking, are avoidable. Other risk factors, such as genetics and age, cannot be changed. Having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will get cancer, and many people who get cancer do not have any known risk factors.

Cancer risk factors include some lifestyle choices such as:

  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Heavy drinking

Genetic risk factors include:

  • A family history of cancer
  • Changes that can occur to a person’s genes during their lifetime
  • Genetic conditions including Lynch Syndrome and BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations

Environmental risk factors include exposure to:

  • Pollution
  • The sun and tanning beds
  • Radon
  • Harmful chemicals or substances found at home and in the workplace

Studies have found links between certain cancers and some chemicals and substances used at home, in the workplace, or found in the environment. These links include but are not limited to:

  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and cancers of the breast, mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, liver, colon, and rectum
  • Inhaling or swallowing asbestos and lung, pharynx, stomach, colon cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the linings of the organs in the chest and abdomen
  • Inhaling radon and lung cancer
  • Inhaling benzene and leukemia
  • Inhaling chromium, nickel, silica, beryllium, or cadmium and lung cancer
  • Inhaling, swallowing, or skin contact with arsenic and skin, lung, gastrointestinal and kidney cancers

These links do not rule out other causes, such as smoking, but they do suggest exposure to these substances may increase the risk of some cancers.


Making healthy choices and taking precautions both at home and in the workplace can help prevent cancer. To reduce your risk of cancer:

  • Do not smoke, dip, or chew tobacco
  • Avoid secondhand smoke
  • Eat a healthy diet low in fat and sugar, and including fruits and vegetables
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Be physically active
  • Protect yourself from the sun by using a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, even on cloudy or cool days
  • Do not use tanning beds
  • Have your home tested for radon
  • Follow safety recommendations when using harmful chemicals or substances at home or at work
  • Girls and boys age 11 and older should get vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Follow recommendations when outdoor air pollution is unhealthy levels
  • Get regular checkups and talk to your doctor about other recommendations, especially if you have a family history of cancer

Get Screened

Talk to your doctor about cancer screening tests. Screening can help find cancer at an early stage, making it easier to treat or cure. Recommended cancer screening tests include:

  • Mammograms and Pap tests for women when recommended by your doctor
  • Screening for colorectal cancer for men and women ages 50 and older, or when recommended by your doctor
  • Prostate screening for men ages 45 and older when recommended by your doctor
  • Annual lung screening for those with a history of smoking one or more packs per day for 30 years or more and smoke or have quit within the last 15 years and are ages 55-80 
  • Regular skin checks by your doctor if you’ve already had skin cancer

It is important to talk to your health care provider about your cancer risk and the cancer screenings that are recommended for you. You can find more information by reviewing the American Cancer Society Guidelines for Early Detection of Cancer.

What cancer data are available on MiTracking?

Cancer data on MiTracking include these indicators:

Incidence of Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Incidence of Bladder Cancer

Incidence of Brain and Other Nervous System Cancers

Incidence of Female Breast Cancer

Incidence of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Incidence of Esophageal Cancer

Incidence of Kidney Cancer

Incidence of Laryngeal Cancer

Incidence of Leukemia

Incidence of Liver Cancer

Incidence of Lung and Bronchus Cancers

Incidence of Melanoma

Incidence of Mesothelioma

Incidence of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Incidence of Oral and Pharyngeal Cancer

Incidence of Pancreatic Cancer

Incidence of Thyroid Cancers

The data can tell us:

  • Cancer rates in Michigan by type of cancer, year, age group, and gender
  • If cancer rates are going up or down over time
  • If part of the population is at higher risk of cancer

However, the data cannot tell us:

  • What causes cancer
  • The total burden of cancer in a population

For more information on cancer, visit these websites.

Michigan Agencies

Childhood Cancer

MDHHS Cancer Prevention and Control

Help Paying for Follow-up Breast and Cervical Cancer Medical Costs

MDHHS Cancer Statistics

MDHHS Cervical Cancer

MDHHS Colorectal Cancer

MDHHS Lung Cancer

Michigan Cancer Consortium

MDEQ – Where to get a radon test kit

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Cancer Prevention and Control

Sun Safety

National Cancer Institute

What is Cancer

The Genetics of Cancer

Risk Factors

Cancer Screening Overview

American Cancer Society

Learn About Cancer
Cancer Causing Substances at Home

Cancer Causing Substances in the Workplace

Guidelines for Early Detection of Cancer

Find Support and Treatment

Explore Research


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