Unfortunately, cancer has affected all of us in one way or another. And although 1.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year, 30 to 50 percent of all cancers can be avoided by reducing risk factors and implementing evidence-based prevention strategies.
February is National Cancer Prevention Month, so we’re taking this opportunity to inform our readers of the common risks of cancer and preventative measures you can take against it.
Types of Cancer and Symptoms
Cancer develops over time as a result of a multistage process where normal cells transform into tumor cells. These cellular changes can occur because of genetic factors or external agents such as viruses, bacteria, asbestos, ultraviolet radiation, and more. Sadly, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide.
The most common cancers include:
- Lung Cancer: 2.09 million cases
- Breast Cancer: 2.09 million cases
- Colorectal Cancer: 1.80 million cases
- Prostate Cancer: 1.28 million cases
- Skin Cancer: 1.04 million cases
- Stomach Cancer: 1.03 million cases
Symptoms can vary depending on the type of cancer, but The American Cancer Society created this simple reminder to take CAUTION.
Contact your healthcare provider if you notice the following symptoms:
C: Change in bowel or bladder habits
A: A sore that does not heal
U: Unusual bleeding or discharge
T: Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere
I: Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
O: Obvious change in a wart or mole
N: Nagging cough or hoarseness
If you’re experiencing the symptoms above, don’t panic. These are usually signs of less threatening health issues, but it’s always best to consult your doctor.
The five leading causes of cancer and how to reduce your risk
According to the CDC, the leading causes of cancer are smoking and secondhand smoke exposure, sun exposure and tanning beds, overweight and obesity, excessive alcohol use, and infectious disease.
Let’s break it down.
1. Smoking and secondhand smoke
Tobacco use is the “single greatest avoidable risk factor” and kills over eight million people yearly. Furthermore, smoking and secondhand smoke cause about 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths in the US.
Reduce your risk: You can dodge this risk altogether by quitting smoking and limiting your exposure to secondhand smoke. If you need a push to quit smoking, we encourage you to look into the CDC’s campaign, “Tips From Former Smokers.”
2. Overweight and obesity
Being overweight or obese is directly tied to at least 13 different cancers, making up 40 percent of all cancer diagnoses.
Reduce your risk: According to the CDC, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding tobacco are the two most important things you can do to lower your risk of getting cancer. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor about the steps you can take to lose weight. By sticking to a balanced diet and consistent exercise plan, you will not only reduce your risk of cancer and other health issues, but you’ll feel better overall!
3. Excessive alcohol use
Alcohol use is considered excessive by the following gender guidelines.
- Women: four or more drinks on occasion or eight or more drinks per week
- Men: five or more drinks on occasion or 15 or more drinks per week
About 17 percent of US adults report binge drinking, with numbers spiking during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the damage alcohol can have on your skin, weight, and mental health, drinking heavily also increases your risk of cancer of the breast, liver, colon, rectum, mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.
Reduce your risk: Try cutting back on your weekly intake by swapping some of your usual cocktails with these fun mocktail recipes. For resources to help you cut back or quit drinking altogether, visit the CDC’s page Preventing Excessive Alcohol Use.
4. Sun exposure and tanning beds
Most skin cancers are caused by harmful UV rays from the sun or UV tanning machines. One study observing 63 women diagnosed with melanoma before age 30 found that 61 of them used tanning beds—that’s 97 percent!
Reduce your risk: Don’t abuse your skin; protect yourself with a hat and sunglasses if you’re going outside. And make it a habit to apply an SPF greater than 30 a few times a day. Most importantly, give up tanning of any kind. With thousands of self-tanner products on the market, there’s no need for it anyway!
5. Infectious disease
Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause a host of health problems, including cervical cancer and cancers of the reproductive organs, rectum, and throat. Additionally, many liver cancer cases are related to hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
Reduce your risk: Get vaccinated and vaccinate your kids. The HPV vaccine is most effective when given in two doses. Without both HPV shots, boys and girls are vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV infections. Similarly, the hepatitis B vaccine helps to lower the risk of liver cancer. Vaccines are our greatest tools against infectious diseases. If you think you may have any of the conditions mentioned, schedule a screening with your doctor.
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