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Chapter 1 - Risk Factors

In epidemiology, a risk factor, or exposure, is an event, condition or characteristic which modifies the risk of an event or outcome. The relationship between exposure and outcome is the effect of the exposure.

Why Should Oncologists Worry About Risk Factors?

When a patient has been diagnosed with cancer, the risk factors that caused it might not be of great importance to the oncologist who is treating her. However, it is still important to know about the types of study that investigate risk factors, not least because improved survival and life expectancy of cancer patients have led to an increase in the risk of second cancers (Oeffinger et al, 2013), partly due to treatment effects (Kamran et al, 2016; Morton et al, 2014) and partly due to the risk factors that were responsible for the first cancer (Berrington de Gonzalez et al, 2011). Addressing behavioural risk factors may reduce subsequent risk for the patient (Khuri et al, 2001) and family members may also seek information on reducing their cancer risk (Bottorff et al, 2015; Howell et al, 2013; Radecki Breitkopf et al, 2014). Furthermore, all physicians have a responsibility to give advice that might prevent ill health, and to be aware of the strengths and limitations of the evidence supporting this advice.


Exposure: An element of behaviour or lifestyle, environmental exposure, or genetic characteristic that is investigated as a modifier of an outcome.

Outcome: Any health-related event, the causation of which is being studied.

Risk Factor: An element of behaviour or lifestyle, environmental exposure, or genetic characteristic that is associated with the occurrence of disease or other condition.

Introduction: Interpreting Oncological Study Publications Measurement of Risk

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