Many cancers are caused by genetic mutations - random changes in the genes. Our genes are made up of DNA. DNA can change in certain parts of the body, allowing cancer to develop. Certain factors carry a higher risk of developing cancer. Some, including age and genetics, cannot be changed. Others begin after exposure to something outside the body (an environmentally-related exposure). This means that changing the way we interact with the environment can help prevent some cancers.
Exposure to ultraviolet radiation - Sun and UV exposure are linked to cancer. Ultraviolet light, from the sun or from a tanning booth, can cause DNA damage in the skin. This can lead to melanoma, basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. Frequent, unprotected exposure, especially early in life, is linked with skin cancers. People with pale skin and outdoor workers are at especially high risk. It is best to avoid artificial tanning altogether. Protect your skin and eyes with sunscreen and UV protective sunglasses when you are outdoors.
Tobacco smoke -- Tobacco smoking accounts for almost 30 per cent of all cancer deaths. Its effect extends beyond the lungs, impacting the stomach, bladder, larynx (voice box), colon and rectum, and other areas. The smoker and anyone nearby who inhales the second-hand smoke are at risk. This includes family members, children, and co-workers. The most effective prevention is never to begin smoking. If you already smoke, it is always best to stop. Many health regions have programs to help smokers quit.
Be active and eat well -- About a third of cancers could be prevented if people could maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and eat well. About 25 per cent of Canadians are obese.
Regular physical activity has been linked to reducing the risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and cancer of the endometrium (the lining of the inside of the uterus).
To keep your body weight at a healthy level:
Many of these steps require changing established patterns and habits. Change can be as easy as adding a side salad when eating out, and remembering to take the stairs at work. Healthy activity and improved diet have benefits apart from reducing the risk of cancer. They also help cardiovascular (heart) health and physical endurance, and lower the risk of diabetes and osteoporosis (fragile bones).
Exposure to some viruses can also cause cancer. The links between hepatitis B and liver cancer, and human papilloma virus (HPV) and cancer of the cervix are well known. Fortunately, vaccines can help protect against these viruses. Though hepatitis B and HPV vaccines are commonly given to children or young adults, but whatever your age, ensure that you are protected.
Taking part in screening activities (see bullet points) is vital. Be aware of anything that is changing with your body. Discuss the following with your doctor:
Healthy choices make a difference. We can all do our best to prevent the development of cancer. If you want more information on how to avoid cancer, check the links in the sidebar or talk to a health professional.
Articles in the Prevention section of Family Health OnLine are sponsored by: