Did you know that nearly 1 in 3 people will contract a form of cancer at some point during their lives? And while cancer can strike people of any age, about 90 percent of cases are diagnosed in those aged 50 or older. So, as we age, both prevention and regular screenings take on more importance.
While many cases of cancer seem to appear spontaneously, we do know that certain factors can raise your risk. Understanding these risk factors can often help you make changes to reduce your risk, even if it’s not possible to eliminate it entirely.
Genetics. Cancer is not passed on as directly as characteristics such as eye color or height. However, researchers do believe that some cancers carry a genetic risk factor. This doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely suffer from these types of cancer, but you’re at greater risk than someone who does not carry this genetic potential. While this might sound scary, since you can’t change your genetics, it’s a good warning to pay attention to other factors on this list that are often preventable.
Chemical exposure. While we’ve yet to narrow down the exact chemical exposures that can cause cancer in every case, we do know that people who work around substances such as pesticides are at greater risk. Always take all recommended precautions with chemicals, especially if you use them regularly.
Diet. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables is associated with lower cancer risk, so make sure to include those in your daily regimen.
Smoking and drinking alcohol. You probably know that smoking cigarettes raises your risk of cancer. The good news is that it’s never too late to quit. Likewise, drinking alcohol raises your risk of liver cancer, although moderate amounts of wine are thought to be acceptable.
UV Exposure. Excessive tanning, either outdoors or within a tanning bed, exposes you to UV rays and raises your risk of skin cancer. While sunlight is good for us (it helps our bodies to produce vitamin D), sunburn and even regular tanning should be avoided.
Weight. This one probably doesn’t surprise you, because being overweight is linked to many different health risks. While body sizes and shapes vary, for both genetic and lifestyle reasons, a healthy diet and exercise should keep you closer to a healthy weight and prevent disease.
Infectious agents. Some cancers, like cervical cancer in women, are linked to a virus that is sexually transmitted. The virus does not harm men, and there is no way to tell if a man carries it.
Radiation. Certain forms of radiation damage cell DNA, and have been linked to cancer. For example, if you live in an area with a high amount of radon in the soil, you might face an increased risk.
It’s important to realize that we can’t always completely eliminate our risk factors for cancer. But when you do have a choice, make the choice that will protect your health. And, of course, continue to talk to your physician about routine cancer screenings. Most cancers are treatable when caught early, so don’t delay those important screening appointments.
*Stats according to the American Cancer Foundation