An average of 1,580 people die of cancer each day in the United States. Research suggests that up to 95% of cancer is preventable. The four most common causes of cancer deaths are Lung & Bronchus Cancer, Female Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer, and Colon/Rectum Cancer. Most of these types of cancer can be prevented with a nutritious diet, frequent exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. There is no cure for cancer, but early detection greatly improves a person’s chance of survival.


Cancer is the top killer of Tennesseans

Click to enlarge: The Truth About Cancer  


Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer among men and women in the US, accounting for over ¼ of cancer deaths. The CDC estimates that tobacco use contributes to about 90% of all cancer cases. Tennessee has the 5th highest rate of smoking in the US, and this impacts its cancer rates: while the state ranks 20th in the nation in overall cancer deaths, it ranks 4th for lung cancer. Only 16.8% of lung cancer patients survive for five years, but that survival rate can vary based on how early the cancer is detected. Current or former tobacco users should talk to their doctor about screening for lung cancer each year. Tennessee residents have access to the TN Quitline, which offers assistance to tobacco users who want to quit.


Breast Cancer

While breast cancer is slightly less common among Tennessee women than the national average, it is still the second leading cause of cancer death for Tennessee women. Over their lifetime, about 1 in 8 women and 1 in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer. The main behavioral risk factors for developing breast cancer are smoking, alcohol use, and an unhealthy diet. In addition to changing these behaviors, women can also reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by breastfeeding their children and talking to their doctor about whether hormone replacement therapies are necessary. Breast cancer survival rates are particularly dependent upon early detection. Women and men should learn their family’s medical history, as genetic screening is available for individuals with a family history of cancer. Mammograms can also detect breast cancer early and are recommended for all women over the age of 40, but only 74% of Tennessee women over 40 have had a mammogram in the past two years. Breast cancer can also be detected through a self-exam.



Prostate cancer is the leading form of cancer among men in the US, and is slightly more common than average among Tennessee men. Many older men who have prostate cancer will die of another cause before ever showing symptoms, but prostate cancer remains the second highest cause of cancer death for men. The main risk factor for prostate cancer is age: about 60% of prostate cancer is diagnosed in men over 65. There are also genetic factors that may increase the risk of prostate cancer. The causes of prostate cancer are not well understood, so research in this area is particularly important. A risk assessment is available through the University of Texas here. Men over the age of 50 or who have a family history of prostate cancer should talk to their doctor about their screening options.


Colon & Rectal Cancer

The fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the US and Tennessee is colon & rectal cancer, affecting almost 5% of people in their lifetime.  Behaviors that can increase a person’s risk of colorectal cancer include physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, and alcohol use. Eating a large amount of red meat and/or processed meat has also been linked to a higher chance of colorectal cancer.  There are a variety of screenings for colorectal cancer that are covered by most health insurance policies. Many people shy away from having a colonoscopy because it  is unpleasant, but early discovery of colorectal cancer can increase a person’s chance of survival. In some cases, colorectal cancer can be prevented through the early detection of colon polyps. People who develop cancer but discover it early have up to a 90% survival rate.


Treatment & Long-term Outlook

There is no cure for cancer. Treatment options vary depending on the type of cancer one has, but often include chemotherapy and radiation, surgery, or both. A person who has been diagnosed with a form of cancer in the past has a significantly greater risk of developing cancer again in the future.
A comprehensive guide to resources for cancer patients in East Tennessee is available here.


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