Cancer is the result of a set of biological and chemical processes. Genes, toxins, infection and lifestyle are all involved and none of us is immune. Rather than letting worry paralyze you, educate yourself and take steps to a healthier life. By knowing the risks around you, and inside you, you can reduce your chances of cancer.
You know smoking is a leading cause of cancer, but you might be surprised to find that as many as five per cent more cancer cases are related to poor diets and lack of exercise. Cancer risks also increase with the amount of alcohol you drink, and indoor tanning nearly doubles your chances of developing melanoma.
You don’t have to become a monk or log every calorie. Just eat better, move more – 150 minutes a week minimum – and cut back on your indulgences. Most importantly, don’t accept certain vices just because others have and lived to 100. We can’t all be George Burns.
It’s not that the jury is still out, it’s just that they’ve got a lot to get through. As of June 2011, The World Health Organization had listed 107 known carcinogens to humans, 59 probably and 267 possibly. Number of “probably nots” listed? One. Yet six per cent of cancers in the United States are linked to occupational or community exposures, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma linked to asbestos.
Educate yourself about toxins in your environment. Lower your toxin exposure at home by making your own household cleaners and buy products from companies and industries practising toxic use reduction. But beware of misinformation. Visit the Occupational Cancer Research Centre’s website for credible information and understand the laws that allow you to refuse work that exposes you to known or suspected carcinogens.
About 18 per cent of cancers worldwide are caused by infectious agents. That’s much higher than in developed countries. Still, nobody is immune to cancer-related viruses like the human papillomavirus, which accounts for 70 per cent of cervical cancers and chronic types of viral hepatitis have been linked to liver cancer.
You can only be immunized against the two above mentioned cancer-causing viruses. The good news is several preventive vaccines are in clinical trials, and recently Health Canada approved an HPV vaccine for young males.
Technically all cancer is “genetic” – that is, caused by genetic mutations – but hereditary cases (usually breast, ovarian, colon and prostate) make up no more than 10 per cent. Genes play a larger role, not by causing disease but by increasing susceptibility. Pay attention to your family history.
Mitigate your risks with healthy habits. Talk to your doctor about screening tests for breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. In rare cases, (for example, if you’re a woman with a lot of breast cancer in the family) discuss the potential risks and benefits to genetic testing and counselling. But don’t just look inside yourself; moles, freckles and skin tags should be regularly examined by a dermatologist because early skin cancer symptoms can resemble harmless pigmentation.