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The causes of cancer

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With 38.4% of men and women likely to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, it’s important to understand the primary risk factors – and how to minimize them.

You probably already know that eating healthily, staying active and quitting smoking are important for your wellbeing. They’ll also reduce your chances of getting cancer, as diet, smoking and lack of exercise are known risk factors. Being aware of regular screening opportunities and following guidelines can also help detect cancer symptoms early, which makes treatment easier and helps improve survival rates.

Taking personal action against cancer

Getting support is vital to quitting smoking. Tobacco smoke contains many harmful chemicals, including at least 70 that have been proven to cause cancer in the human body. In just five years after quitting, you cut your chances of developing mouth, esophagus, bladder and throat cancers in half. If you have had cancer before, quitting smoking may also reduce the risk of the cancer recurring.

You should also consider being more aware of sun and UV damage. Performing regular skin checks should become part of your health regime – typically once a month as moles can appear and change quickly. You may also want to ask your dermatologist about how to do self-skin checks, as there are hard-to-access areas, like the backs of your legs, that can be tricky. Don’t be afraid to seek a professional opinion – it’s always much better to be safe than sorry. Protect your skin with clothing that covers your arms and legs if you are particularly susceptible to burning. Make sure you wear a hat to protect your head, face and neck and ensure your sunglasses block UV rays to prevent damage to your eyes and the skin around them.

Staying healthy, by being active and eating and drinking the right things, plays more of a part in keeping cancer away than you might think. It’ll also help you keep your weight in a healthy range. As life goes on, it’s easy to prioritize other things above exercise, but aim to engage in regular exercise for around 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity, a week. Being overweight increases the risk of breast (in women, post menopause), colon, rectal, endometrial, pancreatic and kidney cancers amongst others. This is partly because excess weight causes the body to produce more estrogen and insulin - two hormones that can stimulate cancer growth.

Making healthy food choices is also important, with a strong focus on the consumption of plant-based foods. It’s advisable to eat two to three cups of fruits and vegetables per day, consume wholegrain instead of refined grain foods and limit your consumption of processed meats.

Be aware of screening guidelines

Cancer screening recommendations will depend on your individual circumstances. For example, your doctor may suggest screening at an earlier age if you have a family history of a certain type of cancer, or if your lifestyle includes high-risk activities like smoking. Generally, though, guidelines are based on your gender and age – the older you are, the more different types of screenings you’ll be offered. It’s important to make – and keep – screening appointments as recommended.

Many cancers develop regardless of your lifestyle, but if you can stay healthy, you may reduce your risk and also enjoy a healthier life along the way.

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