Cancer Causes & Risk Factors
1 AnswerResearch has shown that certain types of cancer may be more common to some families than other types. These cancer types include melanoma, breast, ovarian, prostate and colon. If a certain pattern of cancer appears to exist in your family, genetic testing might be suggested by your doctor. These tests check for gene changes, but finding a change does not mean that have, or will develop, cancer. However, it may mean that there is a higher than average possibility of developing these or other types of cancer.
1 AnswerExposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun is a known risk factor for the three most common types of skin cancer: basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer and melanoma. The use of tanning beds and sunlamps also sharply increases ultraviolet radiation exposure and can increase risk for skin cancer. In addition, UV exposure can damage your skin, eyes, and can cause early aging and other problems. Fair-skinned people are particularly at increased risk of developing skin cancer from long-term or repeated exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers rarely spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. However, melanoma can rapidly spread to almost any organ in the body if not detected and treated early enough. In addition to a family history of melanoma, frequent blistering sunburns during childhood and adolescence have been clearly linked with an increased lifetime risk of melanoma. Having a large number of pigmented moles (nevi) is also a known risk factor for melanoma.
1 AnswerThere are many known health benefits related to physical activity. Exercise can reduce stress, increase energy and help maintain a healthy weight. Researchers are also learning that physical activity appears to contribute to reduced risk of cancers of the colon and breast. A number of studies have also reported links between physical activity and a reduced risk of cancers of the prostate, lung, and uterine lining (endometrial cancer). There is some evidence that other types of cancer may also be less common among people who regularly exercise including stomach (gastric) cancer and other gastrointestinal tract (GI) tract cancers.
2 AnswersBeing overweight, or obese, is estimated to be a factor that directly accounts for 14 percent of all cancers in men and 20 percent of all cancers in women. Based upon data compiled by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society, excess body fat is estimated to cause at least 100,500 (7 percent) of the new cancer cases every year in the United States. Even without changing our lifestyle in other ways, we can bring down our risk of cancer by almost 10 percent by maintaining a normal body weight.
1 AnswerRecent and large public health studies confirm that there are lifestyle and dietary habits that are linked with a decreased risk of developing cancer. Many of these same healthy lifestyle habits also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
For example, the results of a very large study, involving more than 23,000 clinically healthy German volunteers between the ages of 35 and 65 years, identified four basic lifestyle and diet-based factors were linked to reducing the risk of cancer by almost 40 percent:
- Having never smoked
- Maintaining a healthy weight with body mass index (BMI) less than 30
- Engaging in robust physical activity for at least 3.5 hours per week
- Maintaining a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains
1 AnswerThe overall link between diet and cancer risk is complex, and is not entirely clear at this time. Much of the research data within this field of study is not consistent. However, there is a lot of useful research data to consider when developing a strategy around diet to reduce your lifetime risk of cancer.
Research has shown that what individuals eat affects cancer risk for specific types of cancers. For example, multiple cancer prevention studies have shown that increased consumption of red meat, highly processed meats including sausages and luncheon meats, and other sources of animal fats are associated with increased risk of death from several types of cancer -- as well as from cardiovascular disease.
On the other hand, studies of research volunteers who adhere to the "Mediterranean Diet" have shown a significantly reduced risk of cancers of the lung, esophagus, breast, stomach, colon, and rectum. The Mediterranean Diet includes an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, and moderate amounts of nuts, fish, and healthy cooking oils such as canola oil and olive oil. This diet substitutes herbs and spices for salt and may include a modest amount of red wine. None or very little red meat and processed meats are consumed in the Mediterranean Diet.
1 AnswerWhen cancer "runs in the family," survivors have a higher chance of developing second cancers than those who do not have a family history of cancer. Survivors from families who have "predisposing conditions" that increase the possibility of cancer should know their family history. They should also participate in specialized follow-up care that can help with early detection.
1 AnswerThe following is an overview of some of the risk factors for developing second cancers:
- Type of cancer: The type of original cancer you had may affect your risk for a second cancer because some cancers require treatment with radiation or high doses of certain types of chemotherapy. It is not yet clear to researchers if the second cancer is caused by the treatment or by the original cancer, or by a combination of the two. Another possibility is that both the original cancer and a second cancer share certain risk factors such as an underlying cause, environmental exposure, or genetic predisposition.
- Age at time of treatment: Children and young adults have a higher risk of second cancers related to treatment with radiation or chemotherapy than older adults have. Younger survivors have more at-risk years for second cancers. Generally, you should always be alert for symptoms of a second cancer.
- With age, the risk of cancer increases even among those who have never had cancer. Researchers continue to study second cancers in survivors. They hope to develop treatment methods that reduce the risk of developing cancer again. Generally, a healthy lifestyle may help minimize this risk.
- Type of chemotherapy: High doses of chemotherapy medicines are associated with a small number of second cancers in some survivors.
1 AnswerThere is not yet a lot of specific information about how likely it is that survivors of specific cancer types will have second cancers. Current research shows that cancer survivors in general have an increased chance of developing cancer compared to people of the same age and gender who have not had cancer. This means that it is even more important for cancer survivors to be aware of the risk factors for second cancers and maintain good follow-up health care.
Whether or not you will have a second cancer depends on many different things. This may include your age when treated, the treatment you received, and your genetic make-up and family history. Even if you find you are at a higher risk, it does not mean that you will develop cancer again. Keep in mind that, although the risk is higher, the actual number of people who will get a second cancer is relatively small. Each cancer survivor's experience is unique.
1 AnswerMichael Roizen, MD, Internal Medicine, answeredAlthough the link between fat consumption and cancer remains nebulous, several studies show strong correlations. Some experts estimate that as many as one half of all cancers may be provoked, or their growth promoted or inhibited, by our dietary choices. Apparently, saturated and trans fat promote the growth of cancer cells and the progression of cancer tumors. A recent study, the Iowa Women's Health Study, indicates that postmenopausal women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have a better survival rate if they keep their weight down and consume a diet low in saturated fats. Other studies have noted a connection between fat intake and a higher incidence of other types of cancers (including lung cancer, lymphomas, and ovarian and prostate cancer).
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