Common U.S. Cancer Risk Factors

Cancer is the second leading cause of death annually in the US, according to information available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are many types of cancers that can affect individuals. Sometimes, cancers do not cause much harm to individuals, but others can be detrimental.

Some individuals face a higher risk of developing cancers than others. Risk factors range from genetics to the environment in which a person lives and works. Here, our Portland medical malpractice lawyers want to review some of the most common cancer risk factors in the U.S.

Cancer Basics – It’s the Cells

The most basic definition of cancer shows us that our cells hold all the power, and they can also malfunction. Cancer is a disease where some of the cells in the body “grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body,” according to the National Cancer Institute.

Our body is made up of trillions of cells, and these cells normally grow and multiply in an orderly process to replace older existing cells. When cells become damaged or old, the new cells move in to take their place. Cancer cells can spread into or invade areas where there are healthy cells, and this spreading process is called metastasis.

Controllable Cancer Risk Factors

Decades of research have helped scientists and medical professionals gain an understanding of common cancer risk factors that individuals themselves can control. Many of the lifestyle choices that humans make increase the chances that cancer will develop, which means that our choices can improve our odds of not getting cancer if we make the right ones. Some of the most common controllable cancer risk factors include:

  • Smoking Tobacco and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • A lack of physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Poor eating habits, including diets high in processed foods, fats, or meats
  • Excessive exposure to the sun or to other forms of ultraviolet light (including tanning beds)

Controllable risk factors are much more challenging to control than people realize. Often, individuals are at a higher risk of cancer when they have multiple controllable risk factors involved. For example, a person who smokes, who is obese, and who lacks physical activity will increase their chances of contracting some form of cancer.

We strongly encourage individuals who have one or more controllable risk factors to speak to their doctor about lifestyle changes. When individuals have controllable risk factors in combination with risk factors that are out of their control, the chances of contracting cancer increase even more.

Cancer Risk Factors Out of Your Control

Unfortunately, many individuals are predisposed to developing cancer based on risk factors out of their control altogether. The reality is that individuals are much more likely to contract some form of cancer as they get older. Additional risk factors for developing cancer include the following:

  • Previous cancer diagnosis – A history of cancer can influence the risk of developing subsequent cancers.
  • Family history of cancer – Genetic factors play a role in cancer, and a family history of certain cancers can indicate a possible inherited cancer syndrome.
  • Infections or viruses – Certain infections and viruses, such as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis B and C viruses, and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) are known to increase cancer risk. Approximately 13% of cancers globally in 2018 were attributed to carcinogenic infections.
  • Genetics or inherited cancer syndromes – Inherited genetic changes, such as mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, can significantly increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer, including breast cancer. Up to 10% of all cancers may be caused by inherited genetic changes.
  • Weakened immune system – A weakened immune system, including from immunosuppressive drugs used after organ transplants or HIV infection, increases the risk of certain cancers, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and cancers of the lung, kidney, and liver.

Environmental and Workplace Factors Related to Cancer

A person’s environment can also play a role in whether or not they develop cancer, or at least their environment can increase the risk of them developing cancer. We have previously mentioned that exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light is a major risk factor, so individuals who are regularly exposed to this type of light source face increased environmental risks.

Other environmental factors can include but are not limited to, radiation exposure, which is more likely to occur as a result of treatment for other cancers or exposure from industrial sources and nuclear sources.

Chemical exposure, including exposure to known carcinogens such as asbestos, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, insecticides, and other toxins, can increase the risk of a person developing cancer. Additionally, individuals who work in coal, rubber, metal, and other industrial types of industries face an increased risk of developing cancer.

Mesothelioma Factor – Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was historically regularly used in insulation and other building materials, including automotive part materials. There are various types of asbestos that have been used, but the most commonly used type in the US is called chrysotile asbestos.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen and can cause mesothelioma. This is a rare but aggressive cancer that occurs in the lining of the internal organs where asbestos particles embed themselves.

Approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, and this cancer is more common in older individuals than younger individuals.

Speaking to Your Doctor

The best way to understand your risk factors for cancer is to speak to your primary care physician. You can take preventative measures right now to reduce your risk of developing cancer by taking charge of the factors under your control. Even though you cannot control some factors related to developing cancer, your primary care physician can help you understand your chances of developing cancer and develop a plan moving forward to keep you as healthy as possible. If you believe that you have suffered an HER2+ cancer misdiagnosis in Salem, we encourage you to speak to an attorney about whether or not you can receive compensation.