Cancer in Adolescents

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Can cancers in adolescents be prevented?

Most cancers in teens do not have a known cause, so it’s not possible to prevent all of them. But some can be prevented.

Limiting lifestyle-related and environmental risk factors

Unlike with many cancers in older adults, lifestyle-related risk factors (such as smoking) are not thought to play much of a role in cancers in teens. A few environmental factors, such as radiation exposure, have been linked with cancer risk in teens. But some exposures may be unavoidable, such as if a child needs radiation therapy to treat cancer.

There are some things you can do to lower your risk of getting certain kinds of cancer, such as:

While lifestyle-related and environmental risk factors don’t have a large effect on cancers in teens, exposure to these risk factors during the teenage years can still increase a person’s risk of getting cancer as they get older. It’s important to develop and maintain healthy habits early in life, such as not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, keeping active, and eating a healthy diet. Healthy habits like these can also lower your risk for many other types of health problems later on.

Vaccines to help prevent cancer

Some vaccines might lower a person’s risk of getting cancer. For instance, vaccines are available to help prevent infection with HPV (human papilloma virus), the group of viruses linked to cervical and some other cancers. Even though these cancers are more likely to develop later in life than in the teenage years, these vaccines work best if they are given before a person becomes sexually active. For more information, see our documents Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Cancer, HPV Testing, and HPV Vaccines: Frequently Asked Questions and HPV and Cancer.

Preventive surgery

Rarely, people inherit gene changes that make them very likely to get a certain kind of cancer at an early age. In such cases, some people and their doctors might decide on surgery to remove an organ before cancer has a chance to develop there. Again, this is not common.


Last Medical Review: 02/13/2014
Last Revised: 02/13/2014