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DEC 10th 2013

The Rogues’ Gallery - Top Cancer Risk Factors

DEC 10th 2013
The Rogues’ Gallery - Top Cancer Risk Factors

Ever seen a Rogues’ Gallery?

It’s not a pretty sight. Rows and rows of “Most Wanted” mugshots, lined up to let you know which dangerous criminals you should be on the lookout for.

The bad thing about the Rogues’ Gallery is: The criminals are out there.

The good thing about the Rogues’ Gallery is: Now you know which criminals are out there.

Knowing the bad guys’ names and faces helps you recognize them, keep your family out of harm’s way and maybe even bring the criminals to justice. And that’s a very good thing.

Cancer risk factors work that way, too. When you know what lifestyle, environmental or genetic causes could contribute to a cancer diagnosis, you’re taking an important step towards protection and prevention.

That’s why having your own “Rogues’ Gallery” of cancer risk factors comes in handy. Here’s the Most Wanted List of cancer “bad guys” – the risk factors that might be lurking in your everyday life.

Suspect #1: Lifestyle

Lifestyle risk factors are slippery characters – they can pop up in places where you’d least expect them. Obviously, you can’t do much about some risk factors – growing older, for instance. (Though anyone can get cancer, most types of cancer are diagnosed after age 65.) But a lot of lifestyle choices are just that, choices – and, if you’d rather stay on the side of justice, there’s plenty you can do to thwart cancer.

For instance:

Don’t smoke.

Every year, over 180,000 Americans die from tobacco-related cancers. These cancers aren’t just limited to the lungs, either: using tobacco products or even being around second-hand smoke can cause cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box (larynx), kidneys, bladder, pancreas, stomach, cervix or blood cells (acute myeloid leukemia). Smokeless tobaccos (snuff or chewing tobacco) are especially likely to cause cancers in the mouth area.

If you don’t smoke, don’t start! And if you do smoke, quit.  A few resources to help you stop smoking includehttp://www.smokefree.govand http://www.cancer.gov/livehelp. These resources offer online guides to quitting, live support groups, helpful references and more.

Drink moderately and responsibly.

That is, don’t have more than two drinks a day if you’re a man, or one per day if you’re a women. Excess alcohol consumption can contribute to breast, liver, esophagus, larynx, mouth or throat cancer. Typically, alcohol-related cancers build up slowly after many years of drinking, so build good, responsible habits while you’re young!

Eat healthily and exercise.

When you stay active, keep your weight healthy and eat a low-fat, high-produce diet, you’re fighting cancer with some of the best weapons available. Poor nutrition factors into many different cancers, including colon, prostate and uterus, while obesity and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to kidney, esophagus and breast cancers.

Make healthy meal choices: avoid fried foods, red meat, whole milk and other high-fat foods.  Instead, opt for a high-fiber diet full of whole-grain breads, cereals and produce (5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day). By eating right, you’re keeping one of the biggest lifestyle cancer risk factors far away from your home and family.

Don’t forget to exercise, either! Walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week will help you maintain a healthy body weight and keep your complex physical machine running in top-notch condition. If you have a desk job, remember that it’s extra important to carve out some time each day for exercise.

Protect yourself from UV rays.

Malignant melanoma (aggressive skin cancer) can be caused by the accumulated ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and tanning booths. Even if you don’t wind up with skin cancer, UV rays can age, wrinkle and damage your skin – not a pleasant thought!

Limit your time in the sun, and avoid mid-morning to late-afternoon sunlight as much as possible. When you do go outdoors in direct sunlight, wear protective clothing, hats and UV-blocking sunglasses. Don’t forget your sunscreen, either! Buy a bottle with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.

And last of all, stay away from tanning beds and booths. The UV exposure from artificial tanning is just as dangerous as the rays from direct sunlight.

Don’t have unprotected sex or share needles.

Unsafe sex and shared needles can expose you to a wide variety of viruses and bacteria – many of which increase your risk of cancer. Here are a few of these infections, along with the cancers they’re linked to:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): This virus is a major risk factor for cervical cancer.
  • Hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses: These viruses can eventually cause liver cancer.
  • Human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus (HTLV-1): As the name implies, this virus increases your risk for lymphoma and leukemia.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): Besides AIDS, HIV can also cause lymphoma and Kaposi sarcoma.
  • Helicobacter pylori: This bacterium causes stomach cancer, as well as lymphoma in the stomach lining.

However, lifestyle issues aren’t the only “rogues” out there. Genetics can also play a role, as can carcinogen exposure. Read on to learn about some of the other most common cancer suspects.

Suspect #2: Genetics

Sometimes, blood is thicker than water. Just like crime can sometimes run in families, cancer can, too.

At its most basic level, cancer is caused by gene changes (mutations) that turn normal cells into malignant cancer cells. Often, cells mutate from normal to cancerous after a lifetime of smoking, drinking or obesity (as you might have noticed in the “Lifestyle” section). Sometimes, though, genes that increase the risk of cancer are passed on from parent to child. These types of cancers can be easier to predict, but harder to prevent.

For instance, melanoma, breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer all tend to run in families. If you have a close relative who’s been diagnosed with one of these conditions, your chance of getting the disease increases, too.

Sometimes, multiple cancer cases in a family are just coincidence – and sometimes, they’re genetic. If you think you might have a genetic pattern of cancer in your family, you should talk to your doctor about getting screened. Health providers can sometimes suggest exams that detect cancer early, or preventative strategies that may keep you from being the next victim.

Genetic testing might not be a bad idea, either. Your doctor will test you for inherited gene conditions that may increase your chances of a cancer diagnosis. However, just because you have a suspicious gene doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer. Suspect #2 really likes to keep people guessing.

Suspect #3: Carcinogens

Some bad guys like to play with chemicals. You’ve met the desperadoes who blow up safes and poison their victims – now meet the criminal lineup of substances that could increase your risk of cancer.

Carcinogens on the job.

If you’re a painter, a construction worker or someone in the chemical industry, you’ll probably be exposed to a number of carcinogens as part of your job routine. Vinyl chloride, nickel, cadmium, benzene, benzidine and asbestos can all contribute to various types of cancer. After you’ve spent years working with chemicals, your risk increases, so think carefully about entering chemical-based professions early in your career.

Even at home, danger still lurks. When you’re working around the house and garage, you’ll want to cut down on your day-to-day contact with pesticides, engine oil and paint solvents. Sometimes harmless-looking household substances can be bad guys in disguise.

Carcinogens at the Doctor’s Office.

You’d think your healthcare provider would be one place where you wouldn’t have to deal with cancer-causing chemicals. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. If your doctor has prescribed hormones (estrogen or progestin) to help control menopause symptoms, you may find yourself dealing with a range of side effects that include heart attack, stroke, blood clots or breast cancer.

Think carefully before undergoing hormone therapy; discuss the pros and cons with your doctor beforehand. The risk of breast cancer might not be worth it.

In addition, you might have been exposed to a carcinogen called diethylstilbestrol (DES) if you were pregnant in the U.S. between 1940 and 1971. This form of estrogen increases your risk of breast cancer; if you were pregnant with a daughter, she will have a slightly higher risk of cervical cancer.

If you think you might have been exposed to DES, you should talk with your doctor about getting screened.

Carcinogens in the Atmosphere.

Radiation is a sneaky bad guy – the cat burglar type. You may not see it, you may not realize its presence until too late – but it’s still a deadly presence.

Radiation, which can damage your cells and cause cancer, comes from a variety of places: x-rays or radiation therapy, nuclear power plants (radioactive fallout) and radon gas (an invisible radioactive gas found in soil and rocks). Some of the most common radiation-related cancers include leukemia, breast cancer, stomach cancer and lung cancer. (Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco.)

Radiation therapy for one type of cancer can sometimes (though not always) trigger a secondary cancer. If you are considering radiation therapy, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor and make sure you understand your options. The risk for cancer from standard x-ray procedures, however, is very low.

Crime Does Not Pay.

Hopefully, this Rogues’ Gallery has given you some of the tools you need to fight cancer in your immediate neighborhood. Or maybe you’ve read through the lists of “suspects” and realized you have some suspicious risk factors in your life right now.

If you think you might be at risk for cancer, a cancer insurance plan is a great
“crime-fighting” tool that can help put you back in control. CancerInsurance.com offers a variety of supplemental insurance policies that give you the financial resources you’ll need if you’re diagnosed with cancer. Compare policies and get a free quote today.

Banish those bad guys from your life.