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Cancer risk factors

Nobody knows why one person develops cancer and another does not. Some scientists highlight genetic factors, others mention environment and geo factors (radiation, sunlight, “poisoned” food and water) and most researchers recommend to pay a special attention to cancer risk factors. Some cancer risk factors is possible to avoid (smoking, alcohol, sugar addiction and obesity) but several cancer risk factors people cannot control (aging, genetic factors, environmental radiation).

According to comprehensive epidemiological studies, certain types of cancer can be prevented. This conclusion based on long-term investigations which show that people who develop cancer more often mention not healthy lifestyle, more often exposed to certain substances and more often had inherited cancer factors compared with people who do not develop cancer. The following cancer risk factors are recognized by health experts:

Cancer risk factors

  • Aging (growing older),
  • Family history of cancer,
  • Smoking (tobacco),
  • Alcohol (alcoholism),
  • Not healthy lifestyle (poor diet, lack of physical activity, overweight and obesity),
  • Sunlight (extensive UV exposure),
  • Radiation (ionizing radiation),
  • Certain hormones,
  • Cancer causing chemicals and substances,
  • Suppressed immune system,
  • Infections (certain viruses and bacteria),
  • Chronic inflammation,
  • Geography.

Cancer risk factors could increase certain person’s chances of developing different types of cancer. It doesn’t mean that cancer risk factors always cause cancer development. Some people are more sensitive than others to the well known cancer risk factors.

Over time, several risk factors could act together to cause the transformation of normal cells to cancerous cells. Having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will get cancer. Many people who have risk factors never develop cancer.

Aging (growing older)
Most cancers are more common in adults (particularly in older people) – more than 60-62% of cancers occur in people older than 65 due to a combination of increased and prolonged exposure to carcinogens and weakening immune system.

Family history of cancer
Genetic factors could play the most important role in cancer development. Some families have a significantly higher risk of developing certain types of cancer due to a single gene or several genes interacting together. Abnormal or extra chromosome could also increase the risk of cancer. Certain abnormalities (so called “mutations”) affecting critical genes can be responsible for cancer development. Two main categories of genes involved in cancer development are oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes.

Smoking (tobacco)
Tobacco smoke contains carcinogens that substantially increase the risk of cancer development. According to several studies smoking often could be responsible for cancers of lungs, mouth, throat, esophagus, kidneys and bladder. In women smoking could trigger cancers of cervix, breasts, vulva and skin.
Smoking is the most preventable cancer risk factor. Quitting could reduce dramatically the risk of cancer development.

Alcohol (alcoholism)
Drinking more than two drinks each day for many years could increase the chance of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, liver and breast. Usually the risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. The risk factor is higher if person smoke and drink regularly.

Not healthy lifestyle (poor diet, lack of physical activity, overweight and obesity)
Food consumption could be healthy or sometimes dangerous. Certain food substances can increase the risk of cancer (unsaturated fat, barbecued meats, fast food). Poor diet combined with lack of physical activity could cause overweight and obesity – both are risk factors for cancer development. According to some studies, unsaturated fat, barbecued meat and obesity are linked to increased risk of colon, stomach, breast, uterus, kidneys, esophagus and prostate cancer.
Healthy diet full of vegetables and fruits in combination with regular physical activities could help to reduce cancer risk. Keep walking 30 minutes per day and increase your chances to be healthy and happy.

Sunlight (extensive UV exposure)
It is well known that ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes early aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer. It is recommended to avoid the midday sun (from mid-morning to late afternoon), use sunscreen, wear long sleeves and long pants, use sunglasses for protecting skin from intensive sun exposure.

Radiation (ionizing radiation)
Exposure to radiation is a risk factor for the development of cancer. Ionizing radiation is particularly carcinogenic. It was noted that clients who have many tests that use high doses of x-rays (ionizing radiation) have an increased risk of cancer. Sometimes radiation can come from earth or from accidents at nuclear power plants or from the production, testing or use of atomic weapons. Most common types of cancer after radiation are leukemia and cancers of thyroid, breast, lung and stomach.

Certain hormones
Certain types of hormone therapy could increase the risk of developing cancer. It was noted that some contraceptives with estrogen component may increase the risk of breast cancer. Hormone replacement therapy can also increase the risk of breast cancer. Diethylstilbestrol (DES) increases the risk of breast cancer in women who took the drug and in daughters of these women who were exposed before birth. Tamoxifen also can increase the risk of endometrial cancer. Long-term use of testosterone (androgens) may increase the risk of liver cancer. Anticancer chemicals used for one type of cancer sometimes can cause another type of cancer.

Cancer causing chemicals and substances
Several environmental factors increase the risk of developing cancer – pollutants in the air or water (asbestos, industrial waste, smoke) can increase cancer risks. These chemical elements could be responsible for lung cancer and mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura). Exposure to pesticides could increase risks for leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Suppressed immune system
Immune system plays an important role in fighting cancer transformations at very early stages of cancer. Some cells of the immune system can recognize cancer cells as abnormal and kill them. Damages (suppressed) immune system cannot protect body from cancer development.

Infections (certain viruses and bacteria)
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a major cause of cervical cancer in women and penile and anal cancer in men. Some studies show that HPV could also cause cancer of throat. Hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus can cause liver cancer. Some bacteria also could be responsible for cancer development – helicobacter pylori usually cause stomach ulcers and can also increase the risk of stomach cancer and lymphomas; opisthorchis sinensis has been linked to cancer of the pancreas and bile ducts.
People infected with HIV are several thousand times more likely than uninfected people to be diagnosed with Kaposi sarcoma, at least 70 times more likely to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and, among women, at least 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer

Chronic inflammation
Inflammatory disorders often increase the risk of cancer. Such disorders include ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease (which can result in colon cancer and bile duct cancers).

The risk of cancer can be different in different countries depending on several factors including genetics, diet and environment. For example, the risk of colon and breast cancers is low in Japan and they have higher rated of stomach cancer.

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