Cancer ranks among the most feared diseases. Not only is it oftentimes life-threatening, it also seems to befall its victims at random. There is no vaccine against it and, of course, no reliable cure. Yet, according to a recent study in the United Kingdom, people clearly contribute to their chances of getting cancer by their lifestyle choices.
U.K. Study Lists Most Common Risk Factors
Many of Which Are Generated By Lifestyle Choices
“Many people believe cancer is down to fate or ‘in the genes’ and that it is the luck of the draw whether they get it,” said Professor Max Parkin, an epidemiologist at the University of London and the lead author of a study report sponsored by Cancer Research UK. The findings were published earlier this month in the British Journal of Cancer.
For the study, the researchers analyzed cancer cases that occurred in the U.K. between 1993 and 2007. They identified a number of well-known risk factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diets, weight problems, lack of exercise, infections, excessive exposure to the sun (including tanning beds), radiation and hazardous chemicals and, for women, avoidance of breast feeding and hormone replacement therapy.
As it turned out, almost half the cases of various cancers diagnosed in the U.K. every year, a total of about 130,000, could be attributed to one or more of these potential risk factors.
“Looking at all the evidence, it’s clear that around 40 percent of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change,” said Professor Parkin.
According to the study, smoking is by far the biggest culprit, being responsible for 23 percent of all cancer occurrences in men and 15.6 percent in women. Surprisingly, lack of fresh produce in people’s diet seems to play a more significant role than previously believed. Lack of fiber and high levels of salt were also seen as dietary problem factors.
Overweight and obese women were found to be particularly vulnerable, more so than men. Especially breast cancer was linked more to weight issues than, for example, avoidance of breast-feeding.
“Leading a healthy lifestyle does not guarantee a person would not get cancer, but the study showed that we can significantly stack the odds in our favor. If there are things we can do to reduce our risk of cancer, we should do as much as we possibly can,” said Dr. Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK.
Unfortunately, getting people to alter their lifestyle choices is not as easy as health experts sometimes seem to think. Yes, everybody can go on a diet, exercise a little, lose some weight, quit smoking, cut back on the booze. But that alone may not be enough.
Fresh foods are typically more expensive than their processed counterparts and therefore out of reach for low-income families. There is also widespread ignorance about what a healthy diet consists of. Recreational areas and sport facilities are not available everywhere, which prevents people from exercising even if they want to. Environmental and occupational hazards are often unknown or ignored by those who are exposed to them. Poor housing and working conditions can have devastating consequences in this regard. But none of these factors can easily be changed.
Still, the report helps to shed a light on the fact that cancer is not necessarily the cruel reaper that picks his victims without rhyme or reason. Until there is a cure, if there will ever be one, it is important to learn how we can lower the risks with the means we have at our disposal right now. Knowing that we have some degree of influence over how we fare should encourage us to take steps in the right direction.
Top six causes of all cancers in men and women: