What are the Different Cancer Risk Factors?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2018
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Different kinds of cancer have different causes, but there are some general risk factors that apply across a wide range of cancer types. In general, cancer risk increases as people get older, and it also tends to increases as people become more physically unhealthy. There is an increase in risk as people ingest or expose themselves to various toxins, including things like tobacco smoke and asbestos. Many cancers can have genetic basis, so a family history can be one of the most important cancer risk factors, as can radiation exposure including exposure to sunlight.

Sometimes the reasons for particular cancer risk factors aren’t necessarily as simple as they may seem. For example, people who are overweight have a greater cancer risk, but the reasons are unclear. It could be that the weight itself is increasing the cancer risk, and it could also be a common nutrient that overweight people tend to overindulge in. There is a possibility that it could be lifestyle-related, and the tendency of overweight people to avoid exercise could be responsible.

When doctors make recommendations on the basis of cancer risk factors, they usually don’t worry too much about what the underlying cause may be. Just to be safe, they will generally advise people to completely avoid the thing that’s increasing their cancer risk, even if it may only be an indirect cause. As they gain more knowledge, doctors can potentially be more specific in their recommendations to patients.


Cancer risk factors related to genetics can be some of the hardest to deal with. The only thing patients can really do is avoid other things that increase their risk for the specific cancer in question and keep a close eye on their health. If someone knows they have a high risk of developing something like colon cancer because of a family history, he or she can make sure that they get regular checkups and are more vigilante about any symptoms.

Doctors have discovered that viruses can potentially cause certain cancers. For example, a direct connection has been identified between cervical cancer and the human papillomavirus. Most experts think this happens because the viruses cause tissue damage that raises the risk of eventual cell mutation and the development of tumors. Vaccination is seen as a possible way of dealing with many cancers associated with these kinds of risks.



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