Can Cancers in Young Adults Be Prevented?

Most cancers in young adults do not have a known cause, so it’s not possible to prevent all of them. But there are things you can do that might lower your risk of cancer.

Limiting lifestyle-related and environmental risk factors

Lifestyle-related risk factors are not thought to play much of a role in cancers in young adults. A few environmental factors, such as radiation exposure, have been linked with cancer risk in young adults. But some exposures may not be avoidable, such as if a child or teen needs radiation therapy to treat cancer.

However, there are some things you can do to lower your risk of getting certain kinds of cancer throughout your life, such as:

While lifestyle-related and environmental risk factors don’t have a large effect on cancers in young adults, exposure to these risk factors during the teen and young adult 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.

Screening to help prevent certain cancers

Screening is testing for a disease such as cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. Screening for some types of cancer, such as cervical and colorectal cancer, can actually help find some pre-cancer changes before they have a chance to become cancers.

The risk of cervical cancer rises in a woman’s 20s and 30s, so most expert groups recommend that women start being screened for cervical cancer at age 21. (See Can Cervical Cancer Be Found Early?)

Colorectal cancer is much more common in older adults, so screening is not recommended for people at average risk until later in life. But in people who are known to be at high risk, such as those with certain inherited conditions or a strong family history, screening might be recommended earlier – sometimes as early as the teen years. (See American Cancer Society Recommendations for Colorectal Cancer Early Detection for more details.)

Vaccines to help prevent cancer

Some vaccines might lower a person’s risk of getting cancer. For instance, vaccines can help prevent infection with HPV (human papillomavirus), the group of viruses linked to cervical and some other cancers. These vaccines work best if they are given at a younger age (in older children and young teens). For more information, see HPV Vaccines 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.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Bleyer A. Young adult oncology: The patients and their survival challenges. CA Cancer J Clin. 2007;57:242-255.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology. Version 2.2018. Accessed at: www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/aya.pdf on March 22, 2018.

Last Medical Review: April 25, 2018 Last Revised: April 25, 2018

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