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What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases in which abnormal cells in the body grow out of control. Cancers are often named after the part of the body where the abnormal cell growth began – breast cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, thyroid cancer, for example.

How common is cancer?

Many cancers are common in Vermont. Each year more than 3,400 Vermonters are diagnosed with some form of cancer. Cancer occurs in people of all ages, but risk increases significantly with age. Nearly one-half of all men and one-third of all women will develop cancer in their lifetime. Cancer is the leading cause of death. Each year, more than 1,200 Vermonters die from some form of cancer.

In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death and cancer is the second leading cause. For several decades, heart disease was also the leading cause of death in Vermont, but in 2007 cancer took precedence.

What causes cancer?

Cancers generally develop gradually as a result of a complex mix of factors related to lifestyle choices, environment and genetics. Each type of cancer is caused by a different set of factors – some well established, some uncertain, and some unknown. The exact causes of most cancers are unknown, and research continues to examine how and why normal cellular growth becomes uncontrolled. Different types of cancers in a community or workplace do not necessarily have the same cause.

Most cancers are due to factors related to how we live. Tobacco use, heavy drinking, a poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity and overexposure to sunlight increase the risk for cancer.

Through surveillance and tracking, scientists have identified trends in cancer that sometimes correlate with the presence of certain environmental pollutants. This correlation does not rule out other causes, but suggests that environmental factors may increase the risk for particular cancers.

What are examples of environmental pollutants that correlate with cancer?

How does Vermont monitor cancer?

The Vermont Department of Health administers the Vermont Cancer Registry, a statewide cancer surveillance system. State law requires physicians and hospitals in the state to report information on all cases of cancer they diagnose or treat to the Vermont Cancer Registry. Information on Vermonters diagnosed or treated in other states is also included in Vermont’s registry.

Which cancers are included in Vermont’s Tracking data?

Cancers that have an environmental pollutant as a possible risk factor are included in Vermont’s Tracking data. Certain cancers of the blood and lymphatic system are tracked for people of all ages, as well as children specifically.

Vermont’s Tracking Program currently includes data on the following cancers:

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