What causes cancer? Part 1 – Lifestyle

In our previous blog we talked about what cancer is and touched upon the fact that our changing lifestyles and daily habits might have something to do with the increase in cancer diagnoses overall, but especially the increasing number of people being diagnosed with cancer at an early age. And they do! They might not be the only reason, but they certainly account for a large number of new cancer diagnoses every year.

Let’s start with some of India’s most notorious killers, oral cancers, 80% of which can be traced almost exclusively to the use of tobacco products either in the form of smoking or chewing. In fact, oral cancer is top of the list for cancer affecting men in India, and the third most frequent cancer diagnosis for men and women combined. The other cancers at the top of the list include lung cancer, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, and cancer of the pharynx for men. In women, the most frequent cancers are breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, and oral cancers.


Source: http://cancerindia.org.in/cp/index.php/know-about-cancer/statistics#cancer-statistics

These cancers combined account for almost half of all cancer diagnoses made in India in 2012, with the top two in either gender being responsible for 50% of cancer deaths. All these cancers can be prevented or screened for and therefore detected at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be successful.

The obvious culprit in lung and oral cancers is tobacco, which has been known to cause cancer for a long time and most recently researchers have begun to investigate and find out how exactly this happens . For the other cancers on this top 5, alcohol consumption and other unhealthy habits like eating too much junk food, not enough veggies, and regular exercise, which all combined have contributed to the expansion of Indian waistlines and the rise in obesity rates even on our shores, are to blame. Today, science has established a clear link between increased alcohol consumption and obesity rates and the rising rates of certain cancers. Alcohol even packs a double-punch. It not only damages the cells it comes into touch with as it moves through our bodies, it has also been found to help other cancer-causing factors do more damage. That is the reason why cancer rates are even higher in people who drink and smoke!

When it comes to obesity, research is still investigating the exact reasons for why it is so damaging to our cells, but the list of cancers it is associated with is getting longer as more scientists and healthcare professionals look closely at the available data before them. As of today, obesity is known to increase the risk of the following cancers: esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, breast (after menopause), endometrium (the lining of the uterus), kidney, thyroid, and gall bladder (Source: http://www.cancer.gov). But there could be more. A projection for the United States estimates that obesity will lead to an additional 500,000 cases of cancer by 2030. The same analysis also estimates that if every American adult lost just over 1kg on average the burden of all new cancers diagnosed would actually reduce by about 100,000.

Another cancer-causing factor is exposure to radiation. This could be in the form of so-called ionizing radiation, the kind that is used for taking x-rays in a medical setting, although medical technology has worked hard to minimize the amount of radiation a patient is exposed to during an x-ray over the years. Another form of radiation that is known to cause cancer is ultraviolet rays (like those that are a natural part of sunshine). However, that doesn’t mean we have to avoid the sun altogether. After all, that’s the only way we get our healthy dose of Vitamin D without taking supplements. But every time your skin got burnt from sunshine or you start to get that tingly feeling from too much time in the sun, the cells in the top layer of your skin are likely to have been damaged in some form or another. The keyword here is the more often you get burnt, the likelier it is that a skin cell is damaged to the extent that will turn it into a cancerous cell.

So now that you know, will you look at your lifestyle and make some changes? Amazingly, a little change can go a long way in improving your health and outlook and reducing your risk of getting cancer due to factors that are entirely avoidable!

Still want to know more? There are even more things that contribute to our risk of getting cancer, which we talk about in Part 2 of this blog series on What causes cancer?

(Image credits: Derived from image placed in public domain by Mikael Häggström CC0 1.0, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)