Cancer is a leading cause of death, and its incidence is on the rise. Each year, more than 12.7 million people are diagnosed worldwide. An “equal opportunity” condition, cancer often strikes with seemingly no rhyme or reason, affecting people no matter who they are or where they live – even those with very healthy lifestyles.
In many cases, the precise cause of the malignancy remains a mystery, and there is no “magic-bullet” treatment that is effective for every patient. But, medical experts have identified certain factors that are known to increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer. To protect yourself, it’s important to understand the risks you face and learn what you can do to manage them.
One confirmed risk factor for cancer is a group of physical, chemical and biological agents known as carcinogens, which cause cellular destruction in the human body. If an individual is exposed to carcinogens at high levels or for extended periods of time, there is an increased likelihood of resulting cellular damage that can lead to the development of cancer.
Some common types of cancer-causing carcinogens are:
- Tobacco smoke – More than 90 percent of all lung cancers are caused by tobacco smoke. Additionally, in both smokers and those who are exposed to secondhand smoke, tobacco smoke has been directly linked to cancers of the esophagus, respiratory tract, bladder and pancreas, and indirectly linked to cancers of the stomach, liver and kidneys.
- Certain foods – The Western diet, which is characterized by a high intake of red meat, refined sugars, saturated fat, salt and processed foods, is causing the obesity rate to soar. Obesity predisposes individuals to inflammation, which increases the risk of developing cancer and a number of other serious health conditions.
- Certain pathogens – Some viruses, bacteria and parasites can cause cancer. For instance, hepatitis B and C, human papillomavirus (HPV) and the Epstein-Barr virus can be carcinogenic in the human body.
- Radiation exposure – Exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays has been proven to cause cancer, as well and skin damage and other signs of premature aging. Skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of cancer worldwide, and the number of cases increases each year.
- Pollution – Water, air and soil pollution have been associated with cancers of the lungs and bladder.
- Toxins – Some occupations involve exposure to harmful, cancer-causing toxins like asbestos, lead, benzene and vinyl chloride.
While cancer is highly prevalent, some experts estimate that more than half of all types are preventable. After learning about carcinogens, you can take steps to remove as many as possible from your life, and thus reduce your individual cancer risk.
If you are concerned about possible exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens, you can discuss your individual risk profile with an expert oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center. Request an appointment by calling 1-888-MOFFITT or complete our new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.