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African American Health

The Meaning of Risk Factors

Risk factors are conditions that increase the chances that we will develop a disease.

We cannot control some risk factors such as:

Age, for example, is a risk factor for many things, including:

But consider the alternative!

This makes our behavior regarding risk factors we CAN control even more important.

Risk factors we can control include things like:


Having a risk factor does not mean you will get a certain disease, but it should tell you to pay closer attention to this aspect of your health.

For example, if you have a lot of risk factors for breast cancer, you will want to talk to your doctor about it.  Risk factors for breast cancer include:

You should also:

Learn more ways to maintain and improve your health by visiting General Tips for Healthy Living.


Remember life is not "risk free."

We need to consider personally, and as a society, the costs and benefits to us of one course of action over another. For example, do we take a drug off the market that benefits hundreds of thousands of people because it has the potential to cause a few to suffer irreversible liver damage or birth defects?

Some of us might choose to take an experimental drug that offers hope for an incurable disease even though there is a possibility that:

You may avoid flying because of a fear the plane will crash, although statistically the risk of dying in a plane crash is much smaller than the risk of driving your car every day. Others may choose not to have their children immunized against certain childhood diseases because of possible side effects, even though there is a higher chance their children will be killed in a car crash.

How do you weigh the risks? Where do you draw the line?


What are the relative risks of your health behaviors?

Talk to your family and doctor if you need help putting things into perspective. 

For more information:

Go to the African American Health health topic, where you can:

Last Reviewed: Aug 21, 2009

Kenneth   Davis, Jr, MD, FACS Kenneth Davis, Jr, MD, FACS
Professor of Surgery and Clinical Anesthesia
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati