Because of widespread dissemination of false information, people often believe that cancer-causing carcinogens are hiding in the foods they consume and the appliances they use. But actually, it’s unavoidable factors (age, genetics) and unhealthy habits (smoking, drinking) that are some of the most common cancer causes—with food and electronics playing almost no role whatsoever in causing the disease.
To put your fears to rest once and for all, we’ve compiled the real reasons most people get cancer. And for ways to stay ahead of the disease, don’t miss the 20 Skin Cancer Symptoms Everyone Needs to Know.
According to the National Cancer Institute, inherited gene mutations contribute to anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of all cancer cases. In these instances, individuals may be passed down what are known as hereditary cancer syndromes, or disorders that could make them more susceptible to certain types of cancer. Examples of genes involved in hereditary cancer syndromes include TP53, BRCA1, and BRCA2, which all under normal circumstances help prevent the growth of tumors and repair damaged DNA.
One study conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society found that 48.5 percent of all deaths in 2011 from 12 different cancer types combined could be attributed to cigarette smoking. Such cancers include lung—the researchers found that a staggering 80.2 percent of all cases were related to smoking—liver, esophagus, and stomach. And for other less obvious ways you might be putting yourself at risk, check out the 20 Surprising Habits That Increase Your Cancer Risk.
Frequent alcohol consumption is a known carcinogen. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, the consumption of alcohol resulted in anywhere from 18,200 to 21,300 cancer deaths in 2009, making up a little over 3 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. Scientists have found several ways in which alcohol increases a person’s risk of cancer, one of which being that the ethanol in a drink gets broken down into acetaldehyde, which can damage genetic material.
Carrying excess weight prompts the body to release surpluses of insulin and estrogen, two hormones that can cause cancer growth. And according to one study published in Current Oncology Reports, approximately 85,000 new cancer cases every year in the United States can be linked back to obesity. If you’re worried about your weight-related cancer risk, start by checking out these 20 Surprising Weight-Loss Tips That Anyone Can Do.
As one study published in the journal Seminars in Oncology Nursing concluded: “Nearly all skin cancers are… related, at least in part, to UV exposure.” Here’s how: UV radiation—whether it’s from the sun or an artificial source like a tanning bed—damages the skin cells and, in the severe case of a sunburn, even kills them entirely.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall. Every year, the naturally occurring gas causes an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths, which is why it’s important to constantly monitor your home’s levels with a radon test kit.
As if cancer patients don’t have enough on their plate, they also have to worry about potentially getting a second type of cancer from their first cancer treatment. As the American Cancer Society explains, certain chemo drugs—like alkylating agents and platinum-based drugs—have been known to cause myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myelogenous leukemia, and these cases are often difficult to treat.
X-Rays and Gamma Rays
Though X-Rays and gamma rays are known to cause cancer, they only really tend to do so when a person is exposed to them in extremely high doses. Therefore, the only people who need to worry most about x-ray or gamma ray exposure are atomic bomb survivors and, more applicably, patients undergoing radiation therapy.
As Kurt Straif, PhD, head of the IARF Monographs Section, explained to the American Cancer Society, “Outdoor air pollution is not only a major environmental risk to health in general, it is the most important environmental cancer killer due to the large number of people exposed.”
According to the most recent data from the Global Burden of Disease project, 2016 saw 4.1 million premature deaths as the result of air pollution, with a majority of those deaths being due to lung cancer and chronic lung diseases.
Hormone therapy is often prescribed to women to treat symptoms of menopause like sweating and hot flashes, but recent studies have found that these treatments increase the risk of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. However, the American Cancer Society hasn’t stated their position one way or the other on the carcinogenic effects of the drugs—so if you do take them, just make sure to watch out for the 20 Surprising Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore.
Organ Transplant Recipients
Patients who get organ transplants need to take immunpsuppressing drugs to ensure that their bodies don’t reject their new organs. However, one of the side effects of these drugs is that they increase the risk of cancer, and one study published in the journal Toxicology found that 46 percent of renal transplant patients developed cancer after receiving their new organ.
The older you are, the more your body has been exposed to carcinogens that can mutate DNA and cause cancer. And as recent data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program showed, approximately one in four new cancer cases are seen in individuals aged 65 to 74.
Because they cause chronic inflammation and suppress the immune system, infections are one of the most common cancer causes. In fact, according to one study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, infections are responsible for more than 15 percent of all cancer cases worldwide. And for more cancer information, don’t miss the 40 Ways to Prevent Breast Cancer After 40.
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