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Health and Financial Wellness

Everyday risks: Understanding cancer risk factors from our daily lives

With cancer being one of the leading causes of death, not just in the Philippines but around the globe as well [1], there is no doubt why a cancer diagnosis scares many people despite the numerous survivor stories we hear.

However, although we are aware of the emotional, physical, and financial strain that cancer may entail, what do we know about how it develops in our body?

Cancer may start in almost any part of the body. This is because cancer develops when there are changes to the DNA inside a cell. These changes can cause abnormalities in cell production -- a process that happens in the whole body -- hence, the development of cancer cells. [2]

According to the National Cancer Institute, it is generally impossible to know the exact reason why some of us get this disease and some don’t, [3] but they cited several risk factors that may increase our chances of developing cancer.

Gene mutation [4]

The abnormal change in the genes is called “gene mutation.” This can be inherited (passed down from our parents and can be passed to the next generation) or acquired (developed sometime later.)

Just like DNA, genes are also inside the cell. And so, abnormal changes in the cell may contribute to cancer cell growth.

However, if cancer runs in the family, it does not mean that we will automatically get cancer, it only means we’re at higher risk of developing one.

If we have a family history of cancer, such as breast cancer, it is important to take extra precautions because in 5% to 10% of cases, cancer is developed because of an inherited gene mutation.

Age [5]

The cellular changes in our aging bodies affect our risk of cancer. As our bodies absorb environmental stressors throughout our lifetime, more cells become damaged and accumulate over time in tissues. These mutations and damaged cells can lead to cancer especially as our weakening immune system finds it harder to repair and regulate cell growth.

Environmental exposure [6]

Carcinogens are substances that can cause cancer -- and these can be found almost everywhere in our workplaces, homes, and outdoors.

For example, benzene is an aromatic carcinogen that is commonly used to make plastics, resins, synthetic fibers, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, and pesticides. It is also present in tobacco smoke, gasoline, and wood.

Typically, we are exposed to benzene through inhalation of smoke or vapors released by motor vehicles, refueling stations, and cigarette smoke.

Another example of carcinogen is asbestos, a mineral that is commonly found in some older housing and establishments. 

Radon gas is a naturally-occurring radioactive which may be present in the soil in our homes. This gas is usually linked to causing lung cancer.

Too much exposure to these carcinogens increases our risk of cancer.

Infections [7]

Viruses like Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), hepatitis B and C, Human papillomaviruses (HPVs), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are linked to the development of cancer. These infections can: 1.) directly affect the DNA to produce cancerous changes, 2.) cause long-term inflammation, which raises our risk of cancer, or 3.) suppress the immune system so it cannot effectively protect our bodies from cancer.

Lifestyle

Lots of cancer risk factors are something that we can control like smoking, alcohol drinking, and diet.

Cigarette smoking is one of the most common practices that increase our risk of many kinds of cancer. Quitting it drastically lowers our chances of getting the dreaded disease. [8]

Too much alcohol drinking can damage cells and promote the production of carcinogenic chemicals in the colon. To reduce the risk of cancer from alcoholic beverages, experts recommend drinking only one per day for women and two per day for men. [9]

In addition, the heavy consumption of red meat, fried food, and food with additives or preservatives can increase the possibility of getting cancer. A healthy diet that focuses more on vegetables and fruits is the best way to swerve the high risk of cancer. [10]  Regular physical activity such as jogging or simply doing some house chores can also help in keeping a healthy lifestyle. [11]

Cancer truly is one of the most common, but definitely dreaded, diseases. While it is impossible to avoid all the risk factors of cancer, we can latch on to lifestyle modification instead. It does not only promote good overall health, but it can also have a great impact on lowering our risk of cancer so we can live life without fear. 

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References:

  1. World Health Organization. Top 10 Causes of Death [Internet]. 2016 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from: https://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/causes_death/top_10/en/

  2. National Cancer Institute. What is Cancer? [Internet]. 2015 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/what-is-cancer

  3. National Cancer Institute. Risk Factors for Cancer [Internet]. 2015 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk

  4. American Cancer Society. Family Cancer Syndromes [Internet]. 2020 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/genetics/family-cancer-syndromes.html

  5. White M, Holman D, Boehm J. Age and Cancer Risk A Potentially Modifiable Relationship [Internet]. 2014 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4544764/

  6. Falzone L, Marconi A, Loreto C, et al. Occupational exposure to carcinogens: Benzene, pesticides and fibers (Review) [Internet]. 2020 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from: https://www.spandidos-publications.com/10.3892/mmr.2016.5791

  7. American Cancer Society.  Viruses that can lead to cancer [Internet]. 2020 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/infections-that-can-lead-to-cancer/viruses.html

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cancer. Smoking and Tobacco Use [Internet].  2020 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from:  https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/health_effects/cancer/index.htm#:~:text=%20Smoking%20can%20cause%20cancer%20and%20then%20block,cell%E2%80%99s%20%E2%80%9Cinstruction%20manual%E2%80%9D%20that%20controls%20a...%20More

  9. American Cancer Society. Alcohol Use and Cancer. Cancer A-Z [Internet].  2020 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from:  https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/alcohol-use-and-cancer.html

  10. Anand P, Kunnumakara A, Sundaram C, et al. Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes [Internet]. 2008 [cited 01 October 2020];. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11095-008-9661-9