This Feb. 4, Mercy Urgent Care needs your help supporting the eradication of a disease that claims 9.6 million lives each year. On World Cancer Day, join us in spreading awareness, information and resources to help not only those struggling with cancer diagnoses — but also those at risk of developing preventable forms of the disease.
Stand Up to Cancer
The more informed we are about the risk factors of cancer, the less likely we are to spread misinformation — and the more likely we are to empower ourselves and others to make a difference.
Early detection saves lives, but often fear keeps people from seeking cancer screenings. By spreading awareness of the importance of screenings, lives can be saved. Cancers that can be screened for include bowel, breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancers.
Know the Risk Factors
Though cancers can be caused by a multitude of different factors, at least one third of worldwide common cancers can be prevented by making lifestyle changes, according to the Union for International Cancer Control.
Age, genetics, existing immune system issues and unavoidable environmental carcinogens all play a part in increasing an individual’s risk of developing cancer. But equally as important in the fight against cancer are alcohol consumption, tobacco use, obesity, diet and physical activity levels.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the following factors play a role in increasing a person’s risk for cancer:
- Age: The median age of a cancer diagnosis is 66 years — meaning that half of all cancer diagnoses occur in people younger than 66 and the other half of all diagnoses occur in people older than 66. Though the disease can occur at any age (and different types, such as leukemias, occur at higher frequencies in children and adolescents), one-quarter of all new cancer cases occur in those between age 65 and 74.
- Alcohol: Alcohol consumption can increase a person’s risk of developing mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, liver and breast cancers. The more a person drinks, the higher the risk of developing cancer. People who drink alcohol should do so in moderate amounts, with moderate meaning up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
- Chronic Inflammation: Inflammation is often a normal part of injury recovery — but, for sufferers of chronic inflammation, the process does not end when it should. It may even happen without existing injury, such as in cases of abnormal immune reactions. Over time, the inflammatory process of cells dividing and rebuilding may lead to DNA damage and cancer.
- Environmental Substances: This one may not be as apparent as alcohol or tobacco use, and you may not even be aware that you’re being exposed. Chemicals in the environment can be quietly damaging the cells in our bodies as we touch, breathe or interact with them — increasing our risk of developing cancer. Environmental substances known to be harmful include: arsenic, asbestos, coal tar and coal tar pitch, coke-oven emissions, crystalline silica, ethylene oxide, formaldehyde, mineral oils, nickel compounds, radon, secondhand tobacco smoke, soot, sulfuric acid, vinyl chloride and wood dust. (For the full list and details on where each can be found, visit cancer.gov.)
- Hormones: While naturally occurring in the body, estrogens, the group of female hormones, are known human carcinogens — and, in high levels (whether naturally or during hormonal therapy), have been associated with an increased risk of breast and endometrial cancer.
- Immune disorders or suppression: Individuals with suppressed immune systems — whether due to genetic disorders, viral infections or immunosuppressive medication (like those used for organ transplant patients) — are at an increased risk for cancer, due to the body’s lessened ability to detect and destroy cancerous cells.
- Infections: Certain viruses, bacteria and parasites can cause cancer or increase the cancer risk in patients — but many culprit infectious agents can be vaccinated against or potentially prevented. Known infections linked with the potential to cause cancer are: Epstein-Bar Virus, Hepatitis B and C, HIV, HPVs, Human T-Cell Leukemia/Lymphoma Virus Type 1, Kaposi Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus, Merkel Cell Polyomavirus, Helicobacter pylori, Opisthorchis viverrini and Schistosoma hematobium.
- Obesity: Overweight or obese people may be at an increased risk for cancers of the breast, colon, rectum, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas and gallbladder.
- Radiation & Sunlight: Both ionizing radiation (radon, x-rays, gamma rays, etc.) and ultraviolet radiation (given off by sunlight, sunlamps and tanning booths) have been found to potentially cause cancer. While ionizing radiation has enough energy in large doses to damage DNA, the benefit of certain medical procedures using radiation (x-rays, CT scans and PET scans) is almost always greater than the risk. For ultraviolet radiation, keep in mind that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and consistently use sunscreen products with an SPF of at least 15.
- Tobacco: Tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of cancer — and the leading cause of cancer deaths. Even for those who don’t smoke or use tobacco products, regular exposure to secondhand smoke increases an individual’s risk of cancer. There is no safe level of tobacco use, and tobacco products cause cancer of the lung, larynx, mouth, esophagus, throat, bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, colon and rectum, and cervix.
For more information on cancer’s risk factors and common misconceptions, visit cancer.gov. For more ideas on how to spread awareness for World Cancer Day, visit worldcancerday.org.