Know risk factors of cancer

Surprising things that can raise risk

By Barbara Pierce


At least 50 percent of cancer is preventable, said Nigel Brockton of the American Institute for Cancer Research.

AICR funds cutting-edge cancer research and educates people about choices they can make that will reduce their chances of developing cancer.

There’s no explanation for why one person develops cancer and another does not. But research shows that certain behaviors increase the chances that a person will develop cancer. Brockton, director of research at AICR, shared some of AICR’s recent findings with us.

We all know that smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke increases our risk, but here are some other risks of which you may not be aware. Many of these risks can be avoided.

You can help protect yourself by avoiding these known risk factors whenever possible:

— You never say no to a drink:

Yes, alcohol can cause cancer. Even in small amounts.

“Don’t drink,” advised Brockton. “What we’ve found at AICR is that any amount of alcohol increases your risk for cancer. There’s no safe amount you can drink. Any dose of alcohol increases your risk. There are six types of cancers associated with alcohol. The more you drink, the greater your risk of developing one of these cancers.”

For cancer prevention, AICR advises no alcohol. Yes, that’s none. “If you must drink, follow the guidelines for responsible drinking. The guidelines say one drink a day for women, two for men,” Brockton added. “But even if you drink less than the guidelines suggest, there is still a risk.”

— You are overweight:

Obesity is associated with an increased risk of several cancers. “There’s a very strong link,” stated Brockton. ”And 60 percent of Americans are overweight; this is a big concern.”

Being overweight is clearly linked with an increased risk of many types of cancers. Very obese women are seven times more likely to develop endometriosis (cancer of the lining of the uterus). Overweight people are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer.

Obese people have a 50 percent greater risk of a brain tumor. And there are several other cancers where your risk is elevated if you are overweight.

Sedentary lifestyle deadly

— You sit too much:

“Sitting too much increases your risk of developing cancer. Being active reduces your risk. It doesn’t have to be exercise as such; any activity is good, like walking around the house or doing the laundry,” explained Brockton. “Any level of activity is better than none.”

“Limit your sedentary habits,” advised Brockton. “Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. Intense vigorous activity is best.”
Research consistently shows that people who increase their physical activity reduce their risk of colon cancer by 40 percent.

— Your mom or dad got cancer at a young age:

If your mother, father, or siblings were diagnosed with cancer when they were younger than 45, that’s a sign that their cancer may have been caused by a faulty gene. You may have inherited this gene.

“Genetics have an effect,” said Brockton. “Five to 10 percent of breast and colorectal cancer have a strong genetic component.

“But even if you have the faulty gene, that doesn’t mean you’ll get it. You do have a higher risk. Even if you have a strong family history, your lifestyle can impact whether you develop cancer or not.”

If you have a family history of relatives who developed cancer at a younger age, talk to your primary health care provider, who can refer you for testing to determine whether you have the gene.

— You’ve turned 65:

Twenty-five percent of new cancers are diagnosed in people between 65 and 74. File this under the “out-of-my-control” category of things that cause cancer and focus on the risk factors you can control.

One more thing about smoking, and burn this into your head if you haven’t quit: Smoking can cause 15 different types of cancer, and nine out of 10 lung cancers are from puffing away on cigarettes.

“There’s no magic bullet that will prevent cancer,” Brockton said. “Just because you have a perfectly healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean you won’t get it. It’s like the lottery: You might play a lot and never win, or you might win with just one try.”

cancerTips to prevent cancer

Recommendations for cancer prevention by the American Institute for Cancer Research

— Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
— Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. Limit sedentary habits.
— Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods.
— Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans.
— Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
— If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to two for men and one for women a day.
— Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
— Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer.
— It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to six months, and then add other liquids and foods.
— After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.

And always remember — do not smoke or chew tobacco.