Reducing Cancer Risk
Do some people have a higher risk of developing cancer?
Yes. Lifestyle habits, environment and heredity have been shown to increase the chances that cancer will develop in some people. An estimated 80% of cancer cases are linked to the way people choose to live their lives. In fact, this year, many thousands of people will be diagnosed with cancers caused by smoking, sun exposure, poor diet and nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption and exposure to radon. These are all avoidable risk factors. By improving our lifestyle habits and reducing our contact with these agents, we can protect ourselves against the cancers they cause.
What is the single most significant step in prevention against cancer?
Of all causes of death, smoking is the most preventable. If you smoke, STOP! And if you don’t smoke, don’t start! Discourage your family members and co-workers from smoking around you, too. Tobacco use is the number one cancer-related killer. About one-fourth of all cancers are related to smoking, chewing, or “dipping” tobacco. Environmental tobacco smoke – second-hand smoke, or the tobacco smoke of others – is also classified as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). In addition, smoking causes heart disease and cardiovascular disease, aggravates conditions like asthma, and creates serious and even life-threatening health hazards for unborn and young children.
Consult your health care professional for information about the smoking cessation treatments now available. Many patients have had great success with the nicotine patch. Others choose to attend smoking cessation programs. Hypnosis is another possible solution. And remember that no matter what your age when you stop smoking, you will have taken an important step toward preventing cancer and prolonging your life.
Learn about FMH's Smoking Cessation Classes.
What is the second most preventable cause of cancer?
Excessive, unprotected exposure to sunlight will be responsible for thousands of skin cancer deaths this year. Two types of skin cancer, squamous cell and basal cell, are highly curable if detected early. A third, malignant melanoma, is far more difficult to treat. Take these steps to protect yourself and your children against skin cancer:
- Apply a sunblock or sunscreen with a sun-protecting factor (SPF) of at least 15
- Avoid exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun’s ultraviolet rays are strongest
- Limit length of time exposed to direct sunlight
- Avoid childhood sunburns, which can greatly increase the risk of melanoma later in life.
What environmental factors can be controlled?
Excessive exposure to certain environmental substances, such as asbestos, benzene, ionizing radiation and radon, has been shown to cause cancer. Common sense and good safety practices are the best insurance against these hazards.
Government regulatory agencies have established health and safety procedures to assess and control environmental hazards. Hazards present in public places and the workplace should be clearly marked with warning signs; obey the instructions.
If you are concerned about occupational hazards in your workplace, discuss your concern with your employer. You have a right to know if and how you are exposed, and the steps you can take to protect yourself. If protective clothing and equipment are recommended on the job, wear them.
Radon is a radioactive, gaseous element found beneath the earth’s surface. Extreme exposure to radon in homes, usually in the basement, may increase risk of lung cancer especially in people who smoke cigarettes. Have your home tested for radon levels. Simple corrective measures, such as improving ventilation, can reduce this household hazard.
How much control is it possible to have over cancer?
Avoiding known risk factors does not fully ensure prevention against cancer. Nor does exposure to a particular cancer risk factor mean that you will definitely get cancer. But a healthy lifestyle, coupled with early detection and treatment, is certainly the best personal weapon each of us has to fight this disease.