Cancer Workgroup

Objective Status

  • 0 Target met or exceeded
  • 4 Improving
  • 3 Little or no detectable change
  • 1 Getting worse
  • 3 Baseline only
  • 1 Developmental
  • 3 Research

Learn more about objective types

About the Workgroup

Approach and Rationale

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States for men and women.1 Reducing the death rate for all cancers through improved prevention, early detection, and treatment is vital to increasing the overall health and well-being of the population. Several objectives focus on the 4 cancers (lung, breast, prostate, colorectal) that account for almost half of all U.S. cancer deaths. 

Other objectives were selected based on grade A or B recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) for lung, breast, colorectal, and cervical cancer screening.2 To help adults get recommended screenings, the workgroup proposed a research objective to increase the proportion of people who are counseled or engaged in shared decision-making with their providers.

Family health history can impact cancer risk and inform decision-making about cancer prevention and early detection. The workgroup also proposed developmental and research objectives that target such interventions for people at increased risk for hereditary forms of breast, ovarian, and colorectal cancer.3

With advances in early detection and treatment of cancer and the aging of the U.S. population, the number of cancer survivors is projected to increase to 21.7 million by 2029. In addition to cancer incidence and death rates, the workgroup selected an objective on cancer survival to help measure progress toward improving cancer outcomes.4

Understanding Cancer

Cancer is a collection of over 100 diseases resulting from complex environmental and genetic risk interactions.5 Effective interventions for early detection and treatment have reduced cancer deaths. However, approximately half of cancer deaths could be prevented by certain behaviors — including maintaining a healthy weight, using sun-protective behaviors year-round, and avoiding tobacco use.5 The Cancer Workgroup collaborates with other workgroups that focus on these cross-cutting topics related to cancer risk. One objective on cancer prevention that’s not addressed elsewhere in the Healthy People initiative is history of sunburns among adolescents.6

Emerging issues in Cancer

With more people surviving cancer, there’s more focus on their health and quality-of-life needs. Conversely, negative trends in risk factors impacting cancer — like increased use of other tobacco products7, increasing obesity8, and declines in screening use9 — could slow the overall decline in incidence and death rates seen since the 1990s.10 

Ongoing cancer prevention and early detection research is leading to new precision medicine and public health approaches. As new genetic tests become available, screening recommendations may need to account for known family history of cancer. In clinical and public health settings, more precise data will help identify, implement, and monitor evidence-based interventions. 



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). United States Cancer Cases and Deaths, Male and Female, 2016. Retrieved from


U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. (2020). Cancer Screening Recommendations. Retrieved from


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Family Health History and Cancer. Retrieved from


National Cancer Institute. (2019). Office of Cancer Survivorship. Retrieved from


National Cancer Institute. (n.d.) Online Summary of Trends in US Cancer Control Measures. Retrieved from


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. Retrieved from [PDF - 9.7 MB]


Wang, T.W., et al. (2019). Tobacco Product Use and Associated Factors Among Middle and High School Students - United States, 2019. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 68(12), 1–22.


Hales, C.M., Fryar, C.D., Carroll, M.D. (2018). Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity Prevalence in US Youth and Adults by Sex and Age, 2007-2008 to 2015-2016. JAMA, 319(16), 1723-1725. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2018.3060


White, A,. et al. (2017). Cancer Screening Test Use—United States, 2015. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 66(8), 201–206.


Ward, E.M. et al. (2019). Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, Featuring Cancer in Men and Women Age 20–49 Years. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 111(12), 1279–1297.