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Possible Causes and Prevention of Cancer


Possible Causes and Prevention of Cancer


The lifetime risk of developing cancer in the United States is one in two for men, and one in three for women. Yet, just who will get cancer isn't something that can be predicted. Researchers study patterns of cancer in the population to look for risk factors, which are conditions that increase the chance that cancer might occur. They also look for protective facts - things you can do to decrease your risk.

Still, doctors can seldom explain why one person gets cancer and another does not. Or why someone who smokes cigarettes - the single, strongest risk factor for lung and seven other cancers - doesn't get the disease, and why someone who has never smoked, does. It's also confounding that most people who get cancer have none of the known risk factors.

Cancer is not contagious. You can't "catch" it from someone else. You also can't get it from using aluminum cookware. Cancer is not caused by an injury, such as a bump or bruise.

Some cancer risk factors can be avoided. Others, such as inherited risks, can't. Many cancers - some researchers argue most - are linked to environmental (non-inherited) factors, such as what we eat, drink, smoke, and our exposure to other cancer-causing agents (carcinogens), such as radiation and other environmental toxins. Environmental carcinogens, mainly cigarettes and alcohol, account for more than 40 percent of cancers. Diet is blamed for nearly 33 percent of cancers. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

The genes you inherit from your parents, your age, sex, and race can also be factors in the development of cancer. While these cancer risk factors cannot be avoided, it may be helpful to be aware of them so you can protect yourself by avoiding known environmental risk factors whenever possible. You can also talk with your doctor about regular checkups and about whether cancer-screening tests could be beneficial.

These are some of the factors that increase the likelihood of cancer:

Tobacco. One-third of all cancer deaths in the United States each year are caused by smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco (smokeless tobacco), or being regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. For all smokers, the risk of getting lung cancer increases with the amount of tobacco smoked each day, the number of years they have smoked, the type of tobacco product, and how deeply they inhale. Overall, for those who smoke one pack a day, the chance of getting lung cancer is about 10 times greater than for nonsmokers. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

Cigarette smokers are also more likely than nonsmokers to develop oral cancer and cancers of the larynx, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, kidney, and cervix. Smoking may also increase the likelihood of developing cancers of the stomach, liver, prostate, colon, and rectum. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

When a smoker quits, the risk of cancer begins to decrease soon afterward. When a person stops using smokeless tobacco, pre-cancerous conditions, tissue changes that may lead to cancer, often begin to go away.

If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor, dentist, or other health professional, or join a smoking cessation group sponsored by a local hospital or voluntary organization. Information about finding such groups or programs is available from the Cancer Information Service (CIS) at 1-800-4-CANCER. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

Diet. Some evidence suggests a link between a high-fat diet and certain cancers, such as cancers of the colon, uterus, and prostate. However, research has not supported some of the early and still popular theories concerning dietary fat and cancer. For instance, high-fat intake (typically, animal fat) has not been shown to increase the risk for breast cancer.

While total fat intake is not significantly associated with an increased risk of cancer, data has shown that total calorie consumption may be. High-calorie intake in youth may play a role in developing breast cancer by causing the earlier onset of menstruation. Later in life, increased caloric intake, associated with obesity, may increase a woman's estrogen levels and, therefore, increase her risk of breast cancer. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

What you eat can also help protect you against some types of cancer. You may be able to reduce your cancer risk by eating a well-balanced diet that includes foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and low in fat. These foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, pasta, rice, and beans.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation from the sun causes premature aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer. Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, can also cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

Some measures that can help reduce the risk of skin cancer caused by UV radiation:

Use a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater, and apply twice as much as you normally would rub into your skin. Re-apply sunscreen liberally every two hours, or after swimming or perspiring. Avoid direct sunlight exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Another simple rule is to avoid the sun when your shadow is shorter than you are. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Wear sunglasses and sun-protective clothing when you are in the sunshine for prolonged periods. Avoid tanning salons. Alcohol. Heavy drinkers have an increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, and liver. Some studies suggest that even moderate drinking - as little as 1 ounce of alcohol a day - may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. If you don't drink alcohol, don't start. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

Lonizing radiation. Cell damage can be caused by ionizing radiation from X-ray procedures, radioactive substances, rays that enter the earth's atmosphere from outer space, and other sources. In very high doses (such as what was delivered by the atomic bomb in Japan), ionizing radiation may cause cancer and other diseases.

X-rays used for diagnosis expose people to lower levels of radiation used as therapy for cancer. Discuss the benefits and risks of both with your physician. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

Chemicals and other substances. Exposure to certain chemical metals or pesticides can increase the risk of cancer. Asbestos, nickel, cadmium, uranium, radon, vinyl chloride, benzidene, and benzene are all well-known carcinogens. If you work with dangerous materials, it is important to follow work and safety rules to avoid or minimize contact with them.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Doctors may recommend HRT, either estrogen alone or estrogen in combination with progesterone, to control symptoms, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness that may occur during menopause. Studies on the use of HRT and cancer can be confusing for a woman to follow, since those studies have shown mixed results. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

Recent studies have shown a modestly increased risk for the development of breast cancer among women using estrogen-progestin combination HRT, compared to women using estrogen-only HRT. Yet, studies have also shown that the use of estrogen alone increases the risk of cancer of the uterus. Other studies have shown an increased risk of breast cancer among women who have used estrogen for a long time.

Researchers are still learning about the risks and benefits of taking HRT. A woman considering HRT should discuss these issues with her physician. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

Diethylstilbestrol (DES). Women whose mothers took DES, a synthetic form of estrogen, during pregnancy to prevent certain complications, have an increased chance of developing abnormal cells (dysplasia) in the cervix and vagina. In addition, a rare type of vaginal and cervical cancer can occur in DES-exposed daughters.

The drug was used between the early 1950s and 1971. Women who took DES during pregnancy may have a slightly higher risk for developing breast cancer. At this time, there doesn't appear to be an increased risk of breast cancer for daughters who were exposed to DES before birth, however. As for DES-exposed sons, there is evidence that they may have testicular abnormalities, such as undescended or abnormally small testicles. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

Close relatives with certain types of cancer. Some cancers (including melanoma and cancers of the breast, ovary, prostate, and colon) tend to occur more often in some families than in others. It's unclear whether a pattern of cancer in a family is primarily due to heredity, factors in the family's environment or lifestyle, or mere chance. Cancer is caused by changes (mutations) in genes that control normal cell growth. Most cancer-causing gene changes result from lifestyle or environmental factors. However, some changes that may lead to cancer are inherited; that is, they are passed from parent to child.

Having an inherited gene mutation does not mean that a person is certain to develop cancer; it means the risk of cancer is increased. (Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Cancer Prevention Program)

Cancer Prevention | Cancer Cause Prevention Treatment | Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention | Cancer Prevention Program


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