Tag: cancer risk factors

Cancer Risk Factors That You Can Control

Last month, we discussed environmental and hereditary cancer risk factors. While there are cancer risk factors that aren’t always completely in our control, there is a category of risk factors that is totally within our control: Lifestyle.

“We are our choices.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

A Healthy Lifestyle Can Save Your Life

We make choices every day that contribute to our good or bad health and these choices can make it less or more likely to develop cancer. In addition, should cancer develop, these choices can impact a patient’s prognosis. A person who leads a healthy lifestyle and is diagnosed with cancer as a result of inherited risk may respond better to treatment and/or have better chances for survival than a person who leads an unhealthy lifestyle.

The burning question is, if preventing cancer is, at least with regard to lifestyle, within our control, why doesn’t everyone form healthy habits?

In some cases, it may be due to ignorance, a lack of knowledge about cancer and its causes, or emotional or psychological factors that impact lifestyle decisions. In other cases, it may be that the possibility of cancer is considered so far-fetched that people don’t feel the need to be more intentional about their lifestyle choices. Yet another possibility is that there are people that just don’t care. Regardless, cancer is here to stay, at least for the time being, with an estimated 1,685,210 new diagnoses in 2016 (National Cancer Institute), and studies prove that lifestyle choices are a vital factor in its prevention.

Identifying Lifestyle Risk Factors

If you can do something or avoid something and decrease your cancer risk, shouldn’t you?

Of course you should, but you need to know what those things are first. The below list of risk factors and recommendations can help you make lifestyle choices that can decrease your risk of a cancer diagnosis.

Alcohol – Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx (voice box), liver, and breast. The more you drink, the higher the risk. For those who do drink, limiting alcohol consumption to no more than a few drinks per week will help keep the risk minimal. It should be noted that there is no evidence that drinking red wine reduces the risk of cancer.

Diet – Scientists have studied many additives, nutrients, and other dietary components for possible associations with cancer risk and while studies aren’t always consistent or conclusive, there are certain recommendations that can be made about what you should and shouldn’t eat/drink. A well-balanced diet with mostly vegetables, fruits, and herbs, in addition to whole grains and a variety of proteins, is ideal. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) offers a list of Foods that Fight Cancer with those foods that have especially protective components, which you can find here: http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/. In addition to what you should eat, there are also things that you should keep to a minimum, including saturated fats and sugar. This doesn’t mean you can never have fried chicken with macaroni and cheese or that hot fudge brownie sundae. But foods like these should not be a regular part of your diet. Additionally, as a general rule, natural is always better. Foods and drinks with more processing are worse for your health. Even within the processed food category there are those that have been more processed. “Diet” and “light” foods, for example, typically have been processed more that their regular counterparts.

Obesity – According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), those who are obese may have an increased risk of several types of cancer, including cancers of the colon, rectum, esophagus, breast (in women who have been through menopause), endometrium (lining of the uterus), kidney, gallbladder, and pancreas. Maintaining a healthy weight with proper diet and exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle, which, in turn, decreases your cancer risk.

Physical Activity – Being physically active helps maintain a healthy weight, improves and optimizes circulation, and improves the health of your muscles, bones, and even organs. It is especially important for those with more sedentary lifestyles, if you have a desk job, for instance. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.” To get the most out of exercise, it is recommended to include a variety. For example, running by itself will not do as good a job as running while also incorporating other forms of exercise, like yoga, weight training, and/or dance.

Sunlight – While the sun provides us with vitamin D, overexposure to sunlight and its ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes premature aging of the skin and skin damage that could lead to skin cancer. Be sure to protect your skin with sunscreen and/or clothing when spending extended periods of time in the sun.

Tobacco – Tobacco products and secondhand smoke have many chemicals that damage DNA and are a leading cause of cancer and cancer death. We cannot stress enough that there is NO SAFE LEVEL of tobacco use. According to NCI, people who quit smoking have substantial gains in life expectancy when compared to those who continue to smoke. This is a no-brainer in our opinion. Just don’t do it.

When It Isn’t Your Choice

Even if we make all the right choices, we can’t control our DNA. Inherited cancer risks are still a reality, though the lifestyle choices you make can still impact how cancer plays out in the event of a diagnosis. While having a genetic predisposition for cancer does NOT guarantee a cancer diagnosis, knowing whether you have such a predisposition can help you make the best decisions for a healthy lifestyle.

Understanding Environmental Cancer Risk Factors

Cancers figure among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1,685,210 new cancer diagnoses are expected in 2016. Additionally, about 595,690 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2016.

With numbers such as these, it is understandable to have concerns over one’s health and future. Being aware of the risk factors associated with cancers can help you take the necessary steps to safeguard your health and to help protect your future. However, it is important to note that not all risk factors are under your control.

Generally, there are three categories of cancer risk factors: Environment, Genetics, and Lifestyle. In this three-part blog series, we will be discussing each of these categories, starting with today’s article on environmental risk factors.

Environmental Risk Factors

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI):

“Cancer is caused by changes to certain genes that alter the way our cells function. Some of these genetic changes occur naturally when DNA is replicated during the process of cell division. But others are the result of environmental exposures that damage DNA.”

One’s environment is the surroundings or conditions in which a person lives or operates. This environment is not so easily controlled. In order to change your environment, you would have to leave it, and picking up your entire life to reestablish it somewhere else isn’t a simple action. As such, environmental risk factors are generally not within your control, especially if you are not aware that you are being exposed to cancer-causing substances.

When carcinogens are in the air, water, food, or at the workplace, they are more difficult to avoid. In the United States, regulations have been put in place to reduce carcinogen exposure in the workplace, and continuing research is conducted analyzing the presence of carcinogens near schools and neighborhoods. Below is a list of known carcinogenic substances. For more detailed information about each one, visit


Aristolochic Acids








Coal Tar and Coal-Tar Pitch

Coke-Oven Emissions

Crystalline Silica (respirable size)


Ethylene Oxide


Hexavalent Chromium Compounds

Indoor Emissions from the Household Combustion of Coal

Mineral Oils: Untreated and Mildly Treated

Nickel Compounds


Secondhand Tobacco Smoke (Environmental Tobacco Smoke)


Strong Inorganic Acid Mists Containing Sulfuric Acid


Vinyl Chloride

Wood Dust

Carcinogen Exposure Does Not Mean Definite Cancer

It is important to understand that many other factors influence whether a person exposed to a carcinogen will actually develop cancer, including the duration and amount of the exposure as well as the person’s genetic background.

To learn more about how genetics play a role as a cancer risk factor, visit our blog next week!

Kit Registration

Who is taking this test?

Me Someone else
Get $15, find out how!