What Causes Cancer?
Cancer is a range of diseases in which genetically damaged cells in your body reproduce abnormally and spread to other parts of the body where they can damage tissues. The gene mutations may be caused by inherited genetic factors, or they can be caused by environmental factors after birth.
Inherited Gene Mutations vs. Gene Mutations After Birth
In some cases, the gene mutations that cause cancer may be inherited by one’s parents, and increase one’s risk of developing the cancer during their lifetime. Breast cancer and colon cancer are types of cancer that can be genetically inherited.
Most gene mutations occur after birth and are caused by environmental factors, like radiation and carcinogens. These are known as “somatic mutations” and are the most common causes of cancer.
Top 10 Causes of Cancer
Here are the 10 most common causes of cancer, in no particular order.
Gene mutations that cause cancer may be inherited from your parents. Breast cancer, colon cancer, and ovarian cancer are types of cancer that can be passed down through genetics.
Inherited gene mutations are generally rare, but they’re important to know about because they can tell you whether or not you have a higher risk of developing cancer. This knowledge may help people catch the disease in its early stages when it’s easier to treat.
Consider speaking with your doctor if your parents or family members have been currently or formerly diagnosed with an inheritable cancer.
Tobacco is a major risk factor and may cause lung cancer, throat cancer, and mouth cancer—and many more types of cancers. Tobacco contains harmful carcinogens that can damage DNA. It can also cause a variety of other health problems, including heart disease and lung disease.
If you want to quit tobacco, consider speaking with your doctor to learn about the most effective methods and support programs.
A diet that’s high in processed foods, red meat, sugar, and trans fats may increase your risk of developing certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal and stomach cancer. You can reduce your risk by eating a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
4. Lack of Exercise
Lack of exercise does not directly cause cancer, but it can contribute to obesity which does increase the risk of developing cancers like breast, colon, and endometrial cancer. Exercise has numerous health benefits, including improved immune system function and reduced inflammation, and reduces your risk of developing heart disease.
Excessive alcohol consumption may contribute to a variety of different cancers. It’s unclear how exactly alcohol damages your cells, but researchers believe it’s related to a toxic compound that’s created when your body metabolizes the alcohol. It’s recommended that you have no more than one drink per day to reduce your cancer risk.
Your cells can be damaged by exposure to high levels of radiation. Common radiation sources are the sun’s ultraviolet rays and radon gas (which can seep into your home from beneath the soil). Do your best to limit your exposure to radiation, especially when you spend long hours in the sunlight—wear sunscreen to protect your skin.
7. Air Pollution
Air pollution has been linked with a variety of different cancers, including lung cancer, breast cancer, and liver cancer. Air pollution is most common in areas where:
- There’s a high amount of motor vehicle exhaust
- Trash is regularly burned
- Fuel is burned for power generation
- There’s heavy smoke from wildfires
The risk of cancer may be increased by certain infections. Hepatitis B and C can cause liver cancer, while human papillomavirus (HPV) may cause cervical or vaginal cancer.
9. Household Chemicals
There’s a wide variety of household chemicals that contribute to the development of cancer, such as Benzene, Asbestos, and Arsenic. Chemicals in your household cleaning products can also be harmful, so it’s helpful to open your windows after cleaning to air out your home.
As we get older, our cells are more likely to develop genetic mutations that cause cancer. For example, the National Cancer Institute has found that the median age of diagnosis for breast cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer are 62, 71, and 66, respectively. Risk can be mitigated by making healthy lifestyle choices.
Importance of Cancer Research
There’s no single cure for cancer, but there’s a large amount of cancer research being done to gain further understanding of the disease and develop more effective treatments.
Medical researchers test new drugs and treatments through clinical trials. You can help support these clinical trials by making a donation with Gateway for Cancer Research or launching a fundraising campaign in your local area.