What Are the Risk Factors of Cancer?

Cancer is one of those scary words that mark out a death sentence in most people’s brains, and in a lot of cases, rightfully so. That is why it is good to know exactly what puts your patients at a higher risk for cancer, so they can avoid some of these, counter others that are out of their control, and lead an overall healthy life.

Nonmodifiable risk factors of cancer

There are specific risk factors for cancer that patients are born with or which are a natural part of life that they don’t have control over. These include:


The American Cancer Society has noted that 77 percent of the newly diagnosed cancers occur in individuals aged 55 or above, which suggests that as your patients grow older, they are at a higher risk for developing cancer. It is recommended that the older generation go through regular screenings to make sure cells are normal and healthy.


Race can also affect the incidence of certain cancers. For example, Caucasians are at a higher risk for lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers, while American Indians have the lowest incidence of these cancers but are more likely to die from kidney cancers. On the other hand, African American men have a 50 percent higher chance of developing prostate cancer than any other racial group.

Family history

While not all cancers are inherited through genes, certain inherited genes can put a patient at a higher risk for certain diseases. Breast and ovarian cancer in women, colon cancer, and melanoma are among those associated with the presence of specific abnormal genes.

Modifiable risk factors of cancer

None of us have control over the former four risk factors, but many other factors put us at a higher risk, and since we have control over these, it is good to avoid them.


The most prevalent, well-known and avoidable cause of cancer is tobacco smoking, with 30 percent of all cancer deaths occurring because of it. This includes cigars, smokeless tobacco, and second-hand smoke. Cigarettes have over 4,000 harmful chemicals, including addictive nicotine, carbon mono-oxide, tars, and hydrogen cyanide. Most common cancers caused by tobacco smoking are lung and mouth cancers but others may develop as well, and the risk is increased based on the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the age at which an individual starts smoking.

Diet and lifestyle

High-fat diets and binging on alcohol are shown to increase the risk of developing certain cancers. Consuming more than five drinks at one time can lead to liver and pancreatic cancers, and consuming high levels of dietary fat, smoked and salted foods, nitrates, Hydrazines and aflatoxins along with low dietary fiber can all increase the risk for cancer.

A diet high in foods containing certain carcinogens such as trans fats, rancid fats, omega-6 fatty acids, MSGs, pesticides, hormones, artificial flavoring, and refined carbohydrates may also increase cancer risk. Poor diet coupled with lack of exercise can lead to obesity, which can also increase the risk of developing breast, colorectal, and lung cancer.

Environmental factors

Many environmental factors can lead to an increased risk of cancer, one of which is increased exposure to sunlight, which contains UV rays that can lead to different types of skin cancers. These rays are also found in tanning beds.

There are also many environmental carcinogens that can be linked to cancer, such as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and these can be found in many work environments, especially in lower-income occupations.

Other risk factors of cancer

Certain viral and bacterial infections are also known to lead to cancerous growths, especially if they go untreated since the body’s immune system is weakened and cannot fight the abnormalities in cell cycles. The H. pylori, for example, is a bacterium which grows in the stomach and can increase the risk of stomach cancer and gastric lymphoma.

Hormones may also play a role in promoting cancerous growth, as they are responsible for controlling cell cycles, growth, and death. If hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and insulin are in overabundance, they can promote abnormal growth of cancerous cells in the body, so it is essential that they are kept in check. This is why women who are on birth control or undergoing hormone replacement therapy, or individuals who have diabetes, may be at higher risk for certain types of cancers.

These are some of the risk factors of cancer, and knowing these and the ones that apply to your patients is an excellent first step in ensuring their health, safety, and proper diagnosis. It is essential to encourage your patients to get regular screenings if they feel they’re at risk and keep the modifiable factors in check especially if they are predisposed due to factors out of their direct control.

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