Surprising Factors That Affect Your Cancer Risk

Most people know about the association between smoking and lung cancer. But you may be surprised to learn that some seemingly simple factors can also put you in a perilous state. Learn your personal cancer risk profile by honestly answering some targeted questions. Get on the road to mitigating your risk for cancer today.

Surprising Factors That Affect Your Cancer Risk

One important way to lessen or eliminate the chance of getting certain cancers is to first identify what puts you at risk. To do that, researchers scrutinize the details of people who have developed each type of cancer in order to find common features. Everything from your age, race, living habits, job, environment; to commingling diseases, medications, height, weight and family history can be used to estimate the risk of ever developing the disease.

This information is incredibly useful because people with a high risk factor profile can not only change certain factors, but they can also become cancer watchdogs by increasing cancer screening tests to detect cancer early, when it is most likely to respond favorably to treatment. In some cases, there might even be a preventive measure – lifestyle activity, drug or procedure – that can lessen or eliminate the risk in vulnerable people.


Risky Associations

Information about the association between a factor and disease comes from a branch of science called epidemiology. Epidemiologists pool together factors in a numeric way to get an estimation of disease risk. The first thing to understand though is not all risk factors carry the same weight. For instance, a very strong association between the risk factor and a disease may increase the risk many fold, while a weak one may only be slightly detrimental.

Although possessing a negative risk factor doesn’t guarantee you will get cancer, just as having a protective one doesn't assure you'll be free and clear, it does indicate where you are in the spectrum. You may never really know exactly what your cancer risk is, but the answers to some targeted questions can help predict if you’re in danger.

Estimating risk may not be an exact science but individuals and their doctors can use the results of a risk profile to decide a course of action. Since the questionnaire takes into account negative and protective factors, a risk profile can ostensibly be used to lower risk by taking on a protective activity. And that might just save your life.

Here are some harmful and helpful factors for 3 leading cancers.

Colon Cancer Risk Factors

Factors that Increase Risk

  • Eating 3 or more servings of red meat a week
  • Drinking 3 or more alcoholic beverages a day
  • Currently smoking
  • Being obese
  • Being taller than 5'7"

Factors that Decrease Risk

  • Using birth control pills for at least 5 years
  • Taking aspirin (325 mg tablet) 4 to 6 times a week
  • Eating more than 3 servings of milk or dairy products a day
  • Taking a daily multivitamin that contains vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and folate
  • Taking a daily vitamin D supplement
  • Performing 30 minutes of exercise a day
  • Having colon cancer screening (colonoscopy) at regular intervals
  • Having inflammatory bowel disease

Stomach Cancer

Factors that Increase Risk

  • Eating a high salt diet such (canned, processed, frozen and preserved meats)
  • Eating 3 or more servings of red meat a week
  • Eating at restaurants or fast food places
  • Having type A, A+ or A- blood
  • Being a smoker
  • Not taking treatment for Helicobacter pylori stomach ulcers

Factors that Decrease Risk

  • Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables
  • Keeping salt intake under 6000 mg a day (or sodium under 2300 mg a day)

Breast Cancer Risk

Factors that Increase Risk

  • Having a family history or breast cancer
  • Being taller than 5'7"
  • Getting first period younger than 11 or older than 15
  • Having a first child when older than 35 or younger than 20
  • Currently using birth control pills
  • Using hormone replacement therapy for more than 5 years
  • Of Jewish ancestry
  • Drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day
  • Having a BMI greater than 27
  • Testing positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Having a history of atypical hyperplasia a type of benign breast disease

Factors that Decrease Risk

  • Breastfeeding for one year or more
  • Eating a diet that includes monounsaturated fats over saturated fat
  • Performing more than 3 hours of physical activity a week
  • Birthing more than 2 children
  • Taking drugs that block estrogen (Tamoxifen and Raloxifene)
  • Taking the vitamin folate if you are a moderate alcohol drinker

To discover your personal risk for 12 cancer types take the disease risk questionnaires at Your Disease Risk from the Siteman Cancer Center.

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