Please note: This content is an excerpt from the American Cancer Society Cancer Facts & Figures 2006 publication. Please download Cancer Facts & Figures 2006 to see all Tables and Figures noted. Any reproduction or re-use should credit the appropriate Cancer Facts & Figures publication and include a statement of copyright and identify the data source used.


Environmental pollution in relation to cancer is a topic of considerable public interest and scientific debate. There are two major classes of factors that influence the incidence of cancer: hereditary factors and acquired (environmental) factors. Hereditary factors come from our parents and cannot be modified. Environmental factors are potentially modifiable. They include tobacco use, poor nutrition, inactivity, obesity, certain infectious agents, certain medical treatments, sunlight, cancer-causing agents that occur naturally in food, cancer-causing agents in the workplace, and cancer-causing agents that exist as pollutants in our air, water, and soil.

While this special section focuses on the relationship between environmental pollutants, particularly air pollutants, and cancer, pollution may adversely affect the health of humans and ecosystems in many other ways. Cancer is only one dimension of environmental health. Environmental pollution may have other serious consequences for human health, including developmental or reproductive toxicity, respiratory and cardiovascular disease. The progress made in reducing exposures to occupational carcinogens and some air and water pollutants in the United States since the 1970s has been substantial, and has contributed to the protection of the public and the preservation of the environment for future generations. It is important that this progress be recognized and sustained.

Cancer Facts & Figures 2006 Special Section (PDF)